Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons (aka homo sapiens, aka European early modern humans) lived side by side in Europe for thousands of years before the Neanderthals died out. The question of whether Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons had sex and interbred has always intrigued Daze Reader.
The latest evidence suggests that the answer is yes, oh god yes, yes.
From the Guardian: My Neanderthal sex secret: modern European’s great-great grandparent link.
Tests on the remains of a man who lived in Europe about 40,000 years ago found he had two to four times more Neanderthal DNA than any other modern human tested. He inherited the DNA when an ancestor had sex with a Neanderthal about 200 years earlier, or four to six generations back in his family tree.
The striking discovery is the first evidence scientists have that modern humans had sex with Neanderthals in Europe. Until now, the only known interbreeding was in the Middle East, or nearby, about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Those couplings left all non-Africans alive today with 1-3% Neanderthal DNA.
Modern humans spread across Europe between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago, into land already occupied by Neanderthals. The two human forms probably shared the land for about 5,000 years before the Neanderthals died out about 35,000 years ago.
Cave explorers stumbled upon the ancient jawbone of the early European man in 2002 while exploring the Oase cave in south western Romania. Though it looked modern human, it bore some subtle Neanderthal features too. Carbon dating put the remains at between 37,000 and 42,000 years old.
Until recently, the “no interbreeding” theory remained fairly common. For example, the 2004 scholarly paper “Cro-Magnons Conquered Europe, but Left Neanderthals Alone” cites “recent genetic and morphological evidence indicating that early human and Neanderthal interbreeding was unlikely”. Also see this 2008 New Scientist article, “First Europeans shunned Neanderthal sex”.
But evidence from genome mapping seems to be pointing more and more clearly toward lots of Neanderthal-Cro-Magnon mating during the overlap years.