The Lapedo Child was the product of long-term interbreeding between early modern humans and Neanderthals, resulting in a mosaic of early current human and Neanderthal traits. As a result of this interbreeding, early modern human groups in Iberia contain many Neanderthal genes in their DNA.
In 1998, discovered the Lapedo Child in the Laredo Valley, 85 miles north of Lisbon. Initially, archaeologists Joao Mauricio and Pedro Souto were dispatched to the Lapedo Valley after claims of rock art discovered in caves in the region. The archaeologists uncovered a "limestone rock shelter" that they named the Lagar Velho Site while they were there. The landowner at the future Lagar Velho site knocked away the top two or three meters of silt in 1992 to make room for a dirt road. The landowner exposed silt and a crack that extended along the rear wall of the rock shelter over the majority of its length (Zilhao, The Lapedo Child (2001)). The silt in the fissure is thought to correspond to what was two or three feet below the surface before it was disturbed. Found this fissure to be exceptionally rich in charcoal, animal bones, and Upper Paleolithic stone tools, indicating that people intensively populated it at one point in time.
The researchers then examined an aperture in the rock shelter's rear. They collected numerous tiny, red ochre-stained bones that seemed to be human. It turned out to be a little child's grave. This boy had been buried so that his head and feet were higher than his hips. The skeleton was stained with red ochre because it had been covered in an animal hide with red ochre on it, and the body had been laid on a burnt Scots pine branch. Around the skull, the ochre was the thickest. An entire rabbit corpse was discovered between the skeleton's legs, and deer fangs were most likely part of a headpiece. Shells from the Atlantic were also found alongside the remains, perhaps indicating the presence of more jewellery. This is the only Palaeolithic burial site discovered on the Iberian Peninsula yet (Hitchcock et al. 2001).
As the bones of the Lapedo kid were studied further, additional features emerged. According to radiocarbon dating, the skeleton was roughly 24,000 years old, and they were between three and five years old when they died (Holloway et al., 2013). The Laredo Child skeleton was discovered to exhibit a combination of Neanderthal and early modern human traits, ruling out the possibility of the structure being a completely Neanderthal or exclusively early modern human. The skeleton featured a receding chin, typical of Neanderthals, but modern humans have chins that protrude further. The structure also possessed short lower limb segments, including tibiae proportionately smaller than their femora (Hitchcock et al. 2001). This is a distinguishing Neanderthal trait.
On the other hand, the skeleton contained characteristics that were unmistakably modern human in origin. Neanderthals, for example, have bigger anterior mandibular teeth than humans, and this skeleton held more teeth that were human-sized. Furthermore, contemporary people and Neanderthals had various thumb sizes, and the Laredo child's thumbs were proportioned similarly to modern humans. The inner ear appeared to have a uniquely contemporary human anatomy (Zilhao, The Lapedo Child (2001)). So, the youngster was part Neanderthal and half modern human, right? No, it's not that straightforward because evidence shows that full-blooded Neanderthals had been extinct for roughly 4,000 years by the time the Laredo infant was born. But what it most likely indicates is that there was a lot of interbreeding between Neanderthals and early modern humans for a long time before they went extinct. As a result, certain groups had a substantial percentage of their genomes made up of Neanderthal genes (Hitchcock et al. 2001). The people would have been hybrids as a result. As further contemporary human migration occurred, the number of people with Neanderthal genes in their genomes would have continuously reduced. Today, Europeans are thought to contain just a small proportion of Neanderthal DNA, about 1-2 per cent (What Does it Mean n.d.).
The discovery of the Lapedo Child's bones sparked debate in the scientific world, with experts debating whether the skeleton belonged to a Neanderthal-human hybrid or just a fairly stocky human. The excavation of the Lapedo Valley Child was overseen by Joao Zilhao, the head of the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology. The Laredo Valley Child, according to Zilhao, is proof that Neanderthal tribes residing in Iberia up to 28,000 years ago contributed to the gene pools of later early modern human populations (Hitchcock et al. 2001). A paleoanthropologist at Washington University, Erik Trinkaus, holds a similar viewpoint. He sees Neanderthals and early modern humans as the same species, not as two distinct species. "Despite paleontological evidence revealing physical distinctions between these two populations, their general adaptive patterns, social behaviours, and methods of communication (including language) cannot have differed substantially," he writes (Hitchcock et al. 2001). However, he agrees with Zilhao that interbreeding occurred, resulting in the Laredo Child hybrid. It's crucial to note that these findings aren't widely accepted since some experts believe the Neanderthals vanished without contributing to the gene pool.
The Laredo Child, with its mix of Neanderthal and modern human traits, was a significant scientific finding that cast doubt on the idea that Neanderthals were either wiped out by early everyday people or just vanished on their own but instead coexisted with them for some time. As a result of this interbreeding, numerous Neanderthal genes were passed down to future populations, some of which may still be present in the DNA of current Europeans.
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