Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Oldest Known Human Viruses Discovered In 50,000-Year-Old Neanderthal Bones


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Adenovirus, herpesvirus, and papillomavirus

Mains level: NA

Why in the News?

  • Researchers found traces of many present-day viruses in the bones of two Neanderthals who lived 50,000 years ago, providing a new perspective on their extinction.

Breakthrough Study on Neanderthals 

  • Ancient viruses in Neanderthal DNA samples from skeletons found in Russia’s Chagyrskaya cave.
  • The study detected fragments resembling three modern viruses: adenovirus (common colds), herpesvirus (cold sores), and papillomavirus (genital warts).

Health Impacts Inherited in Modern Human Beings:

Modern humans inherit various health impacts from Neanderthals, including skin conditions, allergies, metabolism, nicotine addiction, mood disorders, sleep patterns, blood clotting, sense of smell, and UV radiation response.

Who were the Neanderthals?

    • Neanderthals were a distinct species of hominins that lived in Europe and parts of Asia around 400,000 to 40,000 years ago during the Middle to Late Pleistocene Epochs.
    • Their evidence was first found in 1856 in the Neander Valley in present-day Germany.
  • Physical Features:
      • Neanderthals were robustly built, with a stocky and muscular frame adapted to cold climates.
      • They had large brains, comparable in size to modern humans, indicating advanced cognitive abilities.
      • Distinctive features included a prominent brow ridge, large nose, and a receding chin.
  • Social Life:
      • Neanderthals were skilled hunters and gatherers, using tools such as stone flakes, scrapers, and spears for hunting and butchering animals.
      • They utilized fire for cooking, warmth, and protection, as evidenced by the presence of hearths in their archaeological sites.
      • Evidence suggests they had complex social structures and engaged in rituals and symbolic behaviours, including burying their dead with grave goods.
  • Habitat and Distribution:
  • Neanderthals inhabited a wide range of environments, including open grasslands, forests, and even cold tundra regions.
      • Their range extended from Western Europe to Central Asia, with evidence of populations in regions such as Spain, France, Germany, Croatia, and the Middle East.
  • Interactions with Modern Humans:
    • Neanderthals coexisted with early modern humans (Homo sapiens) for thousands of years in Europe and Asia.
    • There is evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, with genetic studies indicating that non-African humans carry about 1-2% Neanderthal DNA.


[2019] The word ‘Denisovan’ is sometimes mentioned in media in reference to

(a) Fossils of a kind of dinosaurs

(b) An early human species

(c) A cave system found in North-East India

(d) A geological period in the history of Indian subcontinent

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