Posted by Julie Granka on December 6, 2013 in AncestryDNA


Although your family tree on doesn’t go back hundreds of thousands of years, the family tree that links us to our ancient human ancestors does.

Scientists recently sequenced the DNA from a bone of a long-lost relative of ours — a human species who lived (and died) 400,000 years ago in a cave in Spain.  This marks the oldest human ever sequenced.

Like many studies in science, this ones posits more questions than answers. The sequenced bone belongs to an individual who was believed to be an ancestor of Neanderthals, our human cousins who lived in Europe around that time.  However, DNA of the bone looks more like a Denisovan, a human species who is believed to have primarily lived in East Asia — not in Spain.  So what species is this DNA from?  Maybe the individual was an ancestor of Denisovans as well as Neanderthals; maybe this finding is evidence of ancient matings between our human ancestors; or maybe it represents a new species altogether.

So while you’re working hard building your own family tree, scientists too are puzzling over what this finding means for the family tree of the human species.


Photo Credit:, Matthias Meyer et. al. “A mitochondrial genome sequence of a hominin from Sima de los Huesos.” Nature. December 2013. doi:10.1038/nature12788


Julie Granka

Julie has been a population geneticist at AncestryDNA since May 2013. Before that, Julie received her Ph.D. in Biology and M.S. in Statistics from Stanford University, where she studied genetic data from human populations and developed computational tools to answer questions about population history and evolution. She also spent time collecting and studying DNA using spit-collection tubes like the ones in an AncestryDNA kit. Julie likes to spend her non-computer time enjoying the outdoors – hiking, biking, running, swimming, camping, and picnicking. But if she’s inside, she’s baking, drawing, and painting.


  1. Sharon

    This is just like the problems I’m having with my family tree. Is this person’s mother the Mary living in the same county but with an age that is slightly off or the one who lives in another state who matches more closely? Just like the scientists, I need more evidence!

    Nicely written summary, Julie.

  2. Timothy Taylor Detling

    DNA testing is very interesting. Does anyone know if there is a list of what tribes and locations have been tested and added to the data bank?
    The reason I ask is that I just watched a TV series on the History Channel that showed the findings of an ancient civilization that seemed to have made it to the Americas long before Columbus or Erickson or anyone. I think it was the Nasfdac’s civilization. They kept talking about how they did DNA testing to prove where they may have come from and how long ago.

    • Julie Granka

      Hi Timothy, thanks for your interest. For more information about how AncestryDNA’s estimates your ethnicity, and more information about the Native American populations that we examine, please refer to our ethnicity help pages and to our Ethnicity Estimate White Paper. Thanks!

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