Christopher Hunt is an earth scientist who specializes in ancient remains. He traveled back from Iraq with a Neanderthal in the plane seat.

He says he bought her a passenger ticket because he didn't want to check her into the hold. Hunt and a small team of local and international researchers have been working in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq for the past three years on the excavation of the Neanderthal's remains.

Around 60 years ago, 10 Neanderthal remains were discovered at the site of Shanidar. Archaeologists used carbon-dating methods back then to analyze findings, and it took up to six months to get a result. Many of the team's research focuses on the processing of tiny samples of ancient DNA from a piece of bone. The process can be used to map out the entire genomes of both ancient humans and Neanderthals.

Modern human health advances are more likely to dominate mainstream media, but interest in the field is growing The world we live in now is as old as the one experts think existed thousands of years ago.

Understand infectious diseases. The area of northern Kyrgyzstan has been identified as the site of the black death due to ancient DNA taken from plague victims. The plaguebacteria responsible for tens of millions of deaths in the 14th century have genetic links to most of the plague strains of today.

According to Johannes Krause, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, the lesson here is that we should not underestimate the potential of pathogens to spread around the world. The problem of infectious diseases jumping from animals to people is a problem that has been around for hundreds of years.

Many scientists had been skeptical about the value of attempting to sequence ancient DNA because samples are often so old that the DNA strands have become degraded and fragile.

Mitochondrial DNA was used in many early studies of ancientDNA. The genetic material was passed from mother to child and offered more reliable data. More recent studies have been able to use Y-chromosome, which is more repetitive and difficult to read, due to the advances in technology. The result is a more accurate overview of genetic changes over the course of time.