HomeScience & TechAncient Neanderthal Bones Reveal the Oldest Known Human Viruses

Ancient Neanderthal Bones Reveal the Oldest Known Human Viruses

In a groundbreaking study, scientists have discovered traces of three ancient viruses in Neanderthal bones, dating back approximately 50,000 years. These viruses, which still infect modern humans, were found in bones unearthed from the Chagyrskaya cave near the Altai Mountains in Russia. This discovery represents the oldest known human viruses, predating previous records by thousands of years.

The study, which analyzed ancient DNA from the Neanderthal bones, identified adenovirus, herpes virus, and papillomavirus. These viruses, despite their ancient origins, continue to affect modern humans. Adenovirus can cause flu-like symptoms, sore throats, and red eyes; papillomavirus is known for causing genital warts and certain cancers; and herpesvirus is responsible for conditions such as cold sores, chickenpox, and mono.

Scientists believe that these viruses were transmitted from early modern humans to Neanderthals. The adenovirus, herpes virus, and papillomavirus detected in these ancient remains are thought to have significantly impacted Neanderthal populations, potentially contributing to their extinction around 40,000 years ago. This theory is supported by the lack of medical treatments available at the time, which would have made these infections particularly deadly.

The study’s findings, published on the preprint server bioRxiv, highlight the long-standing interaction between viruses and human ancestors. The discovery emphasizes how these ancient viruses have evolved and continued to affect human populations over millennia. Although the study has not yet undergone peer review, it offers valuable insights into the evolutionary history of human diseases and the health challenges faced by our prehistoric relatives.

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