One of the big criticisms of evolutionary explanations of human behaviour is the limited evidence to support them. Not many hominid fossils have been found and these could only fill the back of a landrover. However, scientists have recently extracted DNA from the 38,000 year old bone of one of our early ancestors. Fossil evidence suggests that modern humans shared parts of Europe with a related but different hominid called Neanderthals. Extraction of mitochondrial DNA should allow scientists to compare Neanderthal DNA with modern human DNA and allow them to identify genetic differences between the two species. This should help scientists to answer some of the big questions about our recent evolution: when did modern humans split from a common ancestor shared by Neanderthals; did modern humans mate with Neanderthals, why did they die out and modern humans become the dominant hominid species, and even why we have the kind of brain that we have today.

The link below is to a Guardian article on the extraction of mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) from the leg bone of one of our early ancestors.

Leg bone yields DNA secrets of man's Neanderthal 'Eve'

Channel 4 has produced a drama documentary about the Neanderthals. The
website for the series has some useful information about this early human species and how DNA is helping scientists to answer big questions about the evolution of modern humans. The video clip below is the first part of that documentary.

You can watch the rest of the documentary in a series of linked youtube clips here.

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