Professor Trinkaus and his co-researchers point to several
anatomical features of the Romanian bones that are either
primitive-looking or characteristic of Neanderthals.
These include a large "occipital bun", a bump or bulge at the
back of the skull, as well as other features of the lower jaw and
"These data reinforce the mosaic nature of these early modern
Europeans and the complex dynamics of human reproductive patterns
when modern humans dispersed westward across Europe," Professor
Trinkaus and his colleagues wrote in Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences.
"Strict population replacement of the Neanderthals is no longer
Dr Katerina Harvati, a palaeoanthropologist from the Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said
the finds would further the understanding of early moderns in
She added that some traits in the fossils were either "archaic",
which means they were characteristic of the ancestors both of modern
humans and Neanderthals, or that their evolution, presence and
absence in modern humans was poorly understood.
"Both the author's description and the few photographs provided
in the article show a multitude of derived modern human traits and
an overwhelmingly modern morphology of the described remains," she
Professor Clive Gamble, from Royal Holloway in London, UK, said
the discoveries would yield valuable information about early modern
humans in Europe; but he was cautious about the evidence for
interbreeding with Neanderthals.
"We've known for some time that the earliest modern humans in
Europe are a funny-looking bunch. They are a distinctive looking lot
- very heavily built, particularly in the skulls," he said.
"The question is whether these robust features show that they
were up to no good with Neanderthal women behind boulders on the
tundra, or whether they were just a very rugged population.
"I think, really, the only way to tell would be to look at their
ancient DNA. When DNA was extracted from the classic Neanderthal
skeleton, the last ancestor between modern humans and Neanderthals
turned out to have lived 600,000 years ago."
Similar claims have also surrounded early human skulls from
Mladec in the Czech Republic and the skeleton of a male child
unearthed in 1998 at the Abrigo do Lagar Velho rock shelter in
The Lagar Velho boy, who died about 25,000 years ago, has been
described as a "hybrid", with a mixture of modern and Neanderthal