Dental evidence suggests Neanderthals and modern humans diverged from a common ancestor around 800,000 years ago—hundreds of thousands of years earlier than standard estimates.
The finding could finally reveal the provenance of our shared ancestry, but some experts say the new evidence is unconvincing.
Archaeological and genetic evidence suggests Neanderthals were romping around Eurasia around 400,000 years ago, and that modern humans, Homo sapiens, emerged in Africa around 300,000 years ago.
The timing and geographic location of their momentous evolutionary split is not known, but studies of skulls and DNA suggests it happened around 500,000 to 600,000 years ago.
The lone author of the new study, anthropologist Aida Gómez-Robles from the University College London, reached this conclusion after analysing Neanderthal teeth dated to 430,000 years ago.
The Neanderthal teeth used in the study were previously found in Sima de los Huesos, a Spanish cave that hosted hominins during the Middle Pleistocene.