This year was a good year for Neanderthals. Yes, they did go extinct about 30,000 years ago, but scientists now say their genes live on — in us.
Scientists also found a 40,000-year-old finger in a Siberian cave that apparently belonged to an unknown human-like creature. And hair from the corpse of a 4,000-year-old hunter revealed his blood type and a predisposition for baldness.
What made these discoveries possible was DNA, which is becoming biological science's window into the past.
This year a team of scientists brought together by the Max Planck Institute in Germany actually decoded the billions of DNA segments extracted from Neanderthal bones. It was the culmination of years of research into retrieving intact, ancient DNA from the bones of humans and their ancestors.
"We estimate that about one to four percent of the genetic ancestry of non-Africans is from Neanderthals," says David Reich, a geneticist from Harvard University and a member of the research team.