Researchers believe they have pinpointed the skeletal remains of the first known human-Neanderthal hybrid, according to a study published Wednesday in the peer reviewed scientific journal PLoS ONE.

The finding comes from northern Italy, where some 40,000 years ago scientists believe Neanderthals and humans lived near each other, but developed separate and distinctly different cultures.

A portion of a jawbone found during an archaeological dig in the area reveals that the bone's owner had facial features attributable to both modern humans and Neanderthals, the study explains.

Scientists have debated the theory of human-Neanderthal interbreeding since DNA analysis revealed in 2010 that modern humans share significant portions of their genetic code with their long extinct cousins.

Studies since then have suggested that inbreeding might not have been the case and that humans and Neanderthals instead likely shared a common ancestor before Neanderthals died out about 50,000 years ago, but the findings in PLoS One seem to contradict that thinking.

Of course, despite the wonders of modern science, there's really no telling whether the sex was consensual or not, but the PLoS One study does seem to suggest that a scenario not unlike the "Clan of the Cave Bear" books is indeed plausible.


(H/T: Discovery News)

Photo: Flickr user erix!, creative commons licensed.