While the last Neanderthal went extinct around 30,000 years ago, portions of Neanderthal DNA still exists in us.
[Neanderthals] are not totally extinct, in some of us they live on—a little bit.
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Neanderthals diverged from what eventually became current humans. The Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) was well adapted to living in cold climates and inhabited Europe during the last glacial period. While shorter, with a larger brow, they had larger brains and stronger bodies than ours. Yet, their large size meant that they had to consume a lot more calories than Homo sapiens to survive, which limited how many Neanderthals could coexist and survive in one geographical area.
As the ice age ended and Homo Sapiens spread into previously uninhabitable areas for them, the Neanderthal died out. Yet, due to limited interbreeding with Homo sapiens that lived concurrently, the Neanderthal contributed between 1 to 4%* of today’s human genome.**
* It is important to note that our understanding of Neanderthal DNA is based on old and possibly corrupted DNA which has degraded over time, been compromised by bacteria, or handled by archeologists in the field.
** The revelation of interbreading has lead some scientests to classify Neanderthals as a subspecies of Homo Sapien rather than a distinct species sharing the same genus.
1 Durand, Eric Y. “Neanderthal Ancestry Estimator.” 23andMe. 5 December 2011. 18 August 2013.
2 “Neanderthal.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Aug. 2013.
3 Rincon, Paul. “Neanderthal Genes ‘survive in Us’” BBC News. BBC, 05 June 2010. Web. 18 Aug. 2013.
You can find out how much Neanderthal DNA you have when you participate in 23andMe.