Insights into Recent Human Evolutionary History from Sequencing Archaic Human Genomes

Improvements of DNA sequencing technologies and sample preparation techniques have enabled the reconstruction of genome sequences from hominin fossils at an unprecedented level of resolution. High quality genome sequences are now available not only from early modern humans but also their extinct archaic relatives. These include the genomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans living in the Late Pleistocene, the latter of whom were identified as an Eastern Eurasian sister group to Neanderthals based predominantly on the analysis of their DNA rather than fossil evidence. Recently, mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences were also recovered from the ~400,000 year-old hominin fossils of Sima de los Huesos, Spain, extending the temporal depth of ancient DNA analysis from the Late to the Middle Pleistocene. This presentation will discuss the technical and analytical difficulties associated with highly degraded genetic material as well some of the major insights this work has provided into human evolutionary history.