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The oldest known fossils of a mysterious human lineage discovered in a Siberian cave

Posted: Nov 30, 2021 09:09 GMT

A group of researchers identified 200,000-year-old remains belonging to three Denisovans, a species of the genus ‘Homo’ that inhabited mainland Asia, the islands of Southeast Asia and Oceania.

An international team of researchers has identified in Russia the oldest fossils to date of extinct relatives of modern humans known as Denisovans or Denisovan hominids, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Germany), which participated in the study, reported last Friday.

The remains, of 200,000 years old and belonging to three Denisovans and one Neanderthal, they were found in the Denisova cave, located in the Altai massif, in southern Siberia. Previously, the earliest known Denisovan specimens were between 122,000 and 194,000 years old. Scientists also discovered for the first time stone tools related to this species of the genus ‘Homo’, which inhabited mainland Asia, the islands of Southeast Asia and Oceania and was identified through DNA analysis of bone remains discovered in 2010 in Siberia. .

Using a biomolecular method known as a peptide fingerprint or ‘ZooMS’, Katerina Douka, a professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Vienna, and her German and Russian colleagues had focused on the oldest layers of the site and until now lacked fossils. humans. After analyzing during the last four years 3,800 bone fragments, the scientists identified five bones whose collagen matched the peptide profile of humans.

“Finding a new human bone would have been great, but five? This surpassed my wildest dreams“said Samantha Brown, one of the authors of the study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.” We were surprised to discover new fragments of human bones that preserve intact biomolecules from such ancient layers, “adds Douka.

“Denisova Cave is an amazing place for the preservation of ancient DNA and now we have reconstructed the genomes of some of the oldest and best preserved human fossils,” says Dr. Diiendo Massilani of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. who directed the genetic analyzes of the new fossils.

An indigenous people in the Philippines has the highest amount of Denisovan DNAAn indigenous people in the Philippines has the highest amount of Denisovan DNA

The scientists detailed that the new discoveries help fill a gap in the archaeological adaptations of early Denisovans. Denisovan hominids appear at the site during an interglacial period (a warm period in which the environment and temperatures were similar to today) and take advantage of the cave’s strategic location. They appear with a full lithic tradition, using raw material found in the nearby Anui River alluvium and hunting herbivores such as bison, roe deer and red deer, gazelles and saiga antelopes, and even woolly rhinos. Between 130,000 and 150,000 years ago, Neanderthals also appear at the site.

Research in Denisova Cave continues through systematic fieldwork and specific analysis of bones and sediments by a team of Russian archaeologists who camp in the area for almost six months a year. It is the only site discovered so far that contains evidence of the permanent presence of the three main groups of hominids –Denisovans, Neanderthals, and modern humans– in the last 200,000 years.

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Donna Miller

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