WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists using sophisticated techniques for determining the age of bone fragments, teeth, and artifacts in a Siberian cave provided new insights into a mysterious extinct human species that may be more advanced than previously.
The entrance to Denisova Cave, which contains evidence of earlier settlement by extinct human species in the Anui River Valley in the Altai Mountains in Siberia (Russia), is presented in this picture, published on January 30, 2019. Richard Roberts / Handout via REUTERS
Investigations published on Wednesday highlight the species called Denisovans, known only from washed-out remains of Denisova Cave in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in Russia.
Although puzzling, they left genetic traces in our species, Homo sapiens, especially among the indigenous populations of Papua New Guinea and Australia, which have a small but significant percentage of denisovan DNA the mixing of earlier species.
Fossils and DNA traces showed that Denisovans occurred in the cave at least 200,000 to 50,000 years ago, and Neanderthals, a closely related extinct human species, were there 200,000 to 80,000 years ago, according to new research. Stone tools suggested that one or both species occupied the cave 300,000 years ago.
Last year, scientists described a Denisova cave bones fragment of a girl whose mother was a Neanderthal and a father a Denisovan, proof of the crossing. The girl nicknamed "Denny" lived about 100,000 years ago, as new research shows.
Supporters of animal teeth and bony spikes from the cave were 43,000 to 49,000 years old. They may have been made by Denisovans, indicating a degree of intellectual intelligence.
"Traditionally, these objects are associated with the expansion of our species in Western Europe and are seen as a hallmark of behavioralism, in which case Denisovans may be their authors," said archaeologist Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute for Science of human history in Germany.
Our species originated in Africa about 300,000 years ago and later spread worldwide. There is no evidence that Homo sapiens had reached Denisova Cave when these items were made.
Denisovans are known only from three teeth and a finger bone.
"New fossils are particularly welcome, as we know almost nothing about the appearance of the Denisovans, except that they have rather chunky teeth," said geochronologist Zenobia Jacobs of the University of Wollongong in Australia.
"Their DNA in the modern Australian Aboriginals and Neuguines suggests a tantalizing hint that they may have been widespread in Asia and Southeast Asia, but we must look for hard evidence of their presence in these regions." Denisovan's History " Geochronologist Richard Bert added to the University of Wollongong.
The research was published in the journal Nature.
Reporting by Will Dunham; Cut by Sandra Maler