Neanderthals are some of the earliest humans to share an ancestor that was originally from Africa. However, they evolved differently as a species hundreds of thousands of years ago. When Homo Sapiens first emerged in Africa close to 300,000 years ago, it is believed that Neanderthal ancestors were already living in parts of Asia and Europe for about 100,000 years. It was only 60,000 years ago that groups of Homo Sapiens started to leave the continent of Africa. But, there were some smaller migrations that did occur long before it became popular among Homo Sapiens to leave the African continent.

There are thousands of fossils and physical artifacts as well as complete skeletons which reveal that the earliest humans liver in Asia and Europe for thousands of years near their cousins Neanderthal. In the past decade, genomic evidence hints that Neanderthals migrated from Africa much earlier than as previously believed. As near as 37,000 years ago, species actually interbred before Neanderthals even became extinct. It was previously estimated that anywhere from 1-4 percent of DNA found in Asian and European ancestry constitutes to Neanderthals.  

Scientists had assumed that Neanderthal DNA would not appear in the genomes of today’s African population since Neanderthals evolved outside Africa. Previous studies, on the other hand, showed that only 0.02 percent of the DNA of modern African genomes constituted of Neanderthal DNA. Cell has published new research that shatters such an assumption. It reveals that close to 0.5 percent of African ancestry consists of Neanderthal DNA. The same study also revealed that Neanderthal DNA makes up about 1.8 and 1.7 percent of the Asian and European genomes.       

Keep in mind that one thing that this discovery does not show is the fact that ancient Africans and Neanderthals directly interbred. It only shows that early humans migrated to Europe and mated with fellow Neanderthals before returning back to Africa and continuing to mate with the existing African population which remained. Joshua Akey is the study author (a Princeton University geneticist) behind this new breakthrough and has successfully highlighted the way Neanderthals and humans interacted hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Although Akey and his fellow colleagues were not the first to propose the study of African populations for determining Neanderthal heritage, other groups had only hypothesized early migration. The study of genetics is more common for people of European descent.