Mysterious ‘Ghost’ Populations Had Multiple Trysts With Human Ancestors

Genes from fossils have shown that the ancestors of many living people mated with Neanderthals and with Denisovans, a mysterious group of extinct humans who lived in Asia. Now, a flurry of papers suggests the ancestors of all three groups mixed at least twice with even older “ghost” lineages of unknown extinct hominins. One candidate partner: Homo erectus, an early human who left Africa by 1.8 million years ago, spread around the world, and could have mated with later waves of human ancestors. The new genomic studies rely on complex models of inheritance and population mixing, and they have many uncertainties, not least the precise identities of our ancestors’ strange bedfellows and when and where the encounters took place. But, taken together, they build a strong case that even before modern humans left Africa, it was not uncommon for different human ancestors to meet and mate.

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