Neanderthal who fell into a well gives scientists oldest DNA sample

Altamura Man is the oldest Neanderthal to have his DNA extracted

Story highlights

  • Scientists in southern Italy have known about him since 1993
  • Researchers worried that rescuing the bones would shatter them

(CNN)About 150,000 years ago -- give or take 20,000 -- a guy fell into a well. Last month he made science history.

The Altamura Man became the oldest Neanderthal to have his DNA extracted by researchers. It took them more than 20 years to get around to doing it.
    Scientists in southern Italy have known about him since 1993, when spelunkers spied his skull staring blankly back at them from its nook in the Lamalunga cave, deep under the town of Altamura.
    The cave explorers told researchers at the University of Bari what they'd found, according to their report published in March in the Journal of Human Evolution and Phys.org.
    A man looks at an exhibit comparing modern humans to Neanderthals

    Great specimen with a hitch

    Altamura Man's intact skull and jumbled pile of bones made for a great specimen, but they were wedged into a panoply of stalactites and stony globules deposited by water dripping over them for tens of thousands of years.
    Researchers decided not to rescue the bones for fear that trying to ease them out of the cave's calcified grip would shatter them and ruin Altamura Man. So, they left him forever a cave man.