In Siberia, researchers have found the oldest fossils—so far discovered—of an ancient human lineage, the Denisovans. With the excavations, it was possible to identify three bone fragments of this species that are more than 200,000 years old. Stone artifacts and clues to the group’s diet were also found.
Details of this historic discovery were published in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. Until then, the first known Denisovan specimens were about 122 to 194,000 years old and were also identified in Siberia or China.
“We identified five new hominid bones, four of which contained enough DNA for mitochondrial analysis. Three carry denisovan-type mitochondrial DNA and one was found to carry Neanderthal-type mtDNA,” the researchers detail about the expedition’s findings.
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Who are the Denisovans?
It is worth explaining that Denisovans are an extinct branch of the human family tree. It is also a consensus in the scientific world that these are the closest known relatives of modern humans, along with Neanderthals. In fact, in the recent discovery, fossils of the two species were found in the same place.
Through analysis of DNA extracted from Denisovan fossils, scientists understand that the species lived in mainland Asia and the islands of Southeast Asia and Oceania. Even genetic analyzes indicate that at least two distinct groups of Denisovans interbred with ancestors of modern humans.
Studies in Denisova Cave, Siberia
In this new study, researchers examined about 3,700 bone remnants found in Denisova’s cave. According to the group’s report, the objective of the research was to identify specific proteins of denisovans. These indicators were previously defined based on previous research with the DNA of this lineage.
In total, the scientists identified five hominid bones, four of which contained enough DNA to reveal their true identity. Of the four, three were from the Denisovans. Based on identified genetic similarities, two of these fossils could be from a single individual or from related individuals.
Food artifacts and details
In the same layer of earth where the bones were, the team identified a series of stone artifacts and animal remains, which should serve as a source of new insights, discoveries and studies on the behavior and habits of this species.
“This is the first time we can be sure that the Denisovans were the creators of the archaeological remains we found associated with their bone fragments,” says Katerina Douka, senior author of the study and researcher at the University of Vienna, Austria, for Live Science
As for the remains of animals present in the cave, the remains suggest that the Denisovans probably fed on deer, gazelles, horses, bison and rhinos. “We can infer that the Denisovans have adapted well to their environments, using all available resources,” added Douka.