May 7, 2010— -- The Neanderthal, the barrel-chested brute and beastly evolutionary outcast thought to be extinct for 30,000 years, actually may still have some remnants living in surprising places -- Europe and Asia.
Scientists in a new study claim they have picked up the trail of that hairy historic reject. New evidence suggests that some humans may have inherited up to 4 percent of our DNA from Neanderthals.
The study, publish in the journal Science, is based on painstaking research into three Neanderthal bone fragments found in the Vindija cave in Croatia.
Neanderthals occupied Europe from about 800,000 to 30,000 years ago.
Research published in September 2009 by University of Zurich scientists Marcia Ponce de Leon and Christoph Zollikofer in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science suggested that Neanderthals had brains as large as ours at their birth, and larger when they became adults.
The common ancestor to some modern-day humans, however, was shorter and stockier than modern day humans.
For the new study, scientists reconstructed the Neanderthal genetic code and compared it to modern humans from across the globe. They found there was up to a 4 percent match with humans everywhere except those from Africa.
The theory is that our human ancestors migrating out of Africa about 70,000 years ago had some amorous encounters with Neanderthals somewhere in the Middle East.
"We mean that they interbred, that they had sex," Dr. David Reich of the Harvard Medical School told ABC News. This "interaction" let to a sharing of genetic legacy, which was passed on to modern-day Europeans and Asians.
'Not Quite Extinct'
The new research is the first real evidence that Neanderthals and humans produced offspring.
"Neanderthals aren't quite extinct," Reich said. "[They] all live on a little bit in many of us."
There are still unanswered questions, like why Neanderthals died out as their own evolutionary branch.
But the study shows that, in some ways, Neanderthals didn't disappear altogether.
So, the next time you spill beer at a football game, you really are a little bit of a Neanderthal.