Remains of three Denisovans and one Neanderthal are uncovered in a Siberian cave 

Experts have uncovered the remains of three Denisovans and a Neanderthal dating back 200,000 years in a Siberian cave.

The newly unearthed fossils from the famous Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains, southern Siberia, are surrounded by archaeological remains such as stone tools and fossilized food waste.

Neanderthals were a close ancestor of humans who lived in Europe and Western Asia from about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Little is known about the Denisovans, another group of early humans that lived in Asia at least 80,000 years ago and were distantly related to Neanderthals.

New Denisovan bones date back 200,000 years, and are among the oldest human fossils ever genetically sequenced.

The fact that both Neanderthal and Denisovan remains were found together raises questions about whether the two ancient human species lived there.

Bone fragments taken from the cave were used for molecular analysis. The analysis revealed three bone fragments, such as Denisovans and one from Neanderthals


Neanderthals were very early (archaic) humans who lived in Europe and Western Asia about 400,000 years ago until they became extinct about 40,000 years ago.

Denisovans are another group of early humans who lived in Asia and were distantly related to Neanderthals.

Not much is known about Denisovans because scientists have discovered fewer fossils of these ancient people.

The exact way in which modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans are related is still being studied.

However, research has shown that modern humans interbred with Neanderthal and Denisovan societies for a time, and that they had children together (they intermarried).

As a result, many people living today possess a small amount of genetic material from these distant ancestors.

Source: National Institutes of Health

It is already known that Denisovans diverged from Neanderthals. They were bred with humans about 50,000 years ago, which means that the DNA of early hominins is still alive today.

The new findings are detailed in Nature Ecology and Evolution by an international team led by researchers from the Universities of Vienna and Tübingen, and the Max Planck Society in Munich, Germany.

In all, five hominin bones were found in the cave, including four that contained enough DNA to analyze and identify mitochondria – three like Denisovans and one like Neanderthals.

Finding a new human bone would be cool, but five? ‘This has surpassed my wildest dreams,’ said study author Samantha Brown from the University of Tübingen.

“Denisovans are one of our most recent ancestors, and many people today still carry a small percentage of Denisovan DNA,” Brown told USA Today, but noted that there is still very little information about this group.

Denisovans are thought to have appeared at the site during the interglacial period – a warm period during which the environment and temperatures were similar to what they are today.

They seem to have a ‘whole rock tradition’, using raw materials found in silt in the nearby Anui River and hunting herbivores, such as bison, red deer, gazelle, saiga antelope, and even woolly rhinoceros.

About 130,000 to 150,000 years ago, Neanderthals also appeared at the site, represented by the newly discovered Neanderthal fossil.

The remains were discovered in Denisova Cave (entry pictured here) in the Altai Mountains, southern Siberia.

The remains were discovered in Denisova Cave (entry pictured here) in the Altai Mountains, southern Siberia.

Filipino ethnic group has the most Denisovans DNA, study finds

A 2021 study found that modern people in the Philippines have the highest number of Denisovan DNA in the world.

Researchers in Sweden have found that the Filipino Negrito group known as the Ayta Magbukon has the highest level of Denisovan ancestry today.

The Aita Magpucon, who occupy the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines, have more Denisovans DNA than the Papuan Highlands, formerly the present-day population with the highest level of Denisovan ancestry.

READ MORE: The Aita Magbokon have the most Denisovan DNA in the world

Denisova Cave became famous 11 years ago, when genetic sequencing of a fossilized finger bone revealed a new, previously unknown human group – called ‘Denisovans, in honor of the site.

But identifying other Denisovan remains in the cave has been tricky, as any human remains are fragmented and hard to detect among the hundreds of thousands of animal bones found as well.

For four years, a team led by anthropologist Katerina Duka at the University of Vienna worked to extract and analyze ancient proteins and DNA from about 4,000 bone fragments from Denisova Cave.

The scientists used a biomolecular method known as peptide fingerprinting or “ZooMS” – which uses collagen or other proteins preserved in artifacts to identify the species from which they are derived.

These methods are the only means by which scientists can find human remains among the thousands of bones from the site, as more than 95 percent were too fragmented for standard identification methods.

The team focused on the oldest layers of Denisova Cave, which date back to 200,000 years ago.

Brown analyzed 3,800 bone fragments no larger than 1.5 inches long that were previously considered ‘non-taxonomically identifiable’.

However, I finally identified five bones in which collagen matches the peptide profile of humans.

“We were astonished by the discovery of new human bone fragments that preserve healthy biomolecules from these ancient layers,” Duca said.

Research continues at Denisova Cave through field work and targeted analyzes of bones and sediments with a team of Russian archaeologists camping there for about six months each year.

Excavations in the eastern chamber of the Denisova Cave.  The cave became famous 11 years ago, when genetic sequencing of a fossilized finger bone revealed a new, previously unknown human group - Denisovans.

Excavations in the eastern chamber of the Denisova Cave. The cave became famous 11 years ago, when genetic sequencing of a fossilized finger bone revealed a new, previously unknown human group – Denisovans.

Denisova Cave remains the only site so far discovered that contains evidence of the periodic presence of all three major hominin groups, Denisovans, Neanderthals and modern humans, in the past 200,000 years.

Earlier this year, scientists reported that DNA discovered in Denisova Cave indicates that early modern humans lived alongside Denisovans and Neanderthals at least 44,000 years ago.

Last October, another team reported the discovery of Denisovan DNA in the Baishia Karst Cave in Tibet.

This discovery marks the first time that Denisovan DNA has been recovered from a site outside of Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia.

In August 2020, researchers revealed that DNA from an ancient, unknown ancestor of humans who interbred with Denisovans is still present today.

Denisovian explained

Who is Kano?

Denisovan is an extinct species of human that appears to have lived in Siberia and even as far away as Southeast Asia.

The individuals belonged to a genetically distinct group of humans who were distantly related to Neanderthals but who are more closely related to us.

Although the remains of these mostly mysterious first humans were discovered in Denisova Cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains, DNA analysis showed that the ancient people were scattered throughout Asia.

Scientists were able to analyze DNA from teeth and from a finger bone excavated in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia.

This discovery has been described as “nothing short of impressive”.

In 2020, scientists reported Denisovans DNA in the Baishia Karst Cave in Tibet.

This discovery marks the first time that Denisovan DNA has been recovered from a site outside Denisova Cave.

How widespread is it?

Researchers are now beginning to discover how big a role they have played in our history.

DNA from these early humans has been found in the genomes of modern humans over a wide area of ​​Asia, indicating that they once covered a wide range.

They are believed to have been a sister species of Neanderthals, who lived in western Asia and Europe around the same time.

The two species seem to have split from a common ancestor about 200,000 years ago, while they split from the lineage of modern humans, Homo sapien, about 600,000 years ago.

Last year researchers even claimed they may have been the first to reach Australia.

The aborigines of Australia contain Neanderthal DNA, as do most humans, and Denisovans DNA.

This last genetic trace is present in the indigenous population at present in much greater quantities than in any other people worldwide.

How advanced are they?

Beads of bone and ivory were discovered in Denisova Cave in the same sediment layers as the Denisovan fossils, leading to suggestions that they had sophisticated tools and jewelry.

Professor Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “Layer 11 in the cave contained a Denisovan girl’s finger bones near the bottom, but they were worked out of the bones and ivory upwards, suggesting that Denisovans could have made this. The type of tools commonly associated with modern humans.

However, direct dating work by the Oxford Radioactive Unit reported at the ESHE meeting indicates that the Denisovan fossil is more than 50,000 years old, while the oldest ‘advanced’ artifacts are around 45,000 years old, a date that matches The appearance of modern humans in other places. in Siberia.

Did they interbreed with other species?

Yes really. Today, about 5 per cent of the DNA of some Australians – particularly people from Papua New Guinea – is Denisovans.

Now, researchers have found two distinct modern human genomes – one from Oceania and one from East Asia – both of which have distinct Denisovian ancestry.

The genomes are also quite different, suggesting that there were at least two separate waves of prehistoric overlapping between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Researchers already know that people who live today on islands in the South Pacific have Denisovan ancestry.

What they did not expect, however, was that individuals from East Asia carried a uniquely different species.


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