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Who were the Denisovans? The ancient human is still an enigma

Plus: The terrible science behind popular weight loss products.

This image shows a portrait of a juvenile female Denisovan based on a skeletal profile reconstructed...
Maayan Harel

Elena Zavala, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, puts it plainly: very little is known about the Denisovans.

“This is a group we know very little about,” Zavala tells Inverse’s Tara Yarlagadda in our lead story. “By increasing our knowledge, we are provided with another perspective or reference for understanding what are the elements that make us modern humans ‘human.’”

In a remote cave nestled in the Altai Mountains of southern Russia, scientists have extracted DNA from ancient sediment that suggests the Denisovans lived there before, and then during the time of the Neanderthals. They lived there up until around 45,000 years ago. The research was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Our understanding of who exactly the Denisovans were is still murky, but it’s one that’s steadily becoming improved. Keep scrolling down to read more on this fascinating story of ancient history that’s being uncovered today.

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This image shows a portrait of a juvenile female Denisovan based on a skeletal profile reconstructed from ancient DNA methylation maps.

Maayan Harel

A cave in Russia could solve an ancient mystery Scientists discovered that a little-known group of ancient people, the Denisovans, may predate the Neanderthals at a site important to the story of humankind. Tara Yarlagadda has the story:

In a remote cave nestled in the Altai Mountains of southern Russia, scientists are uncovering the secrets of ancient human life. Here in this cave, ancient peoples like the Neanderthals found shelter from the bitter chill of the Ice Age.

According to new research, Neanderthals also shared this cave with another little-known group of ancient humans: the Denisovans. Furthermore, the Denisovans were likely there first.

Continue reading this story at

Go deeper:

  1. Ancient humans procreated with at least 4 other species
  2. Inside the incredible journey to solve an ancient human mystery
  3. Ancient Judeans’ table scraps offer a fresh twist on Jewish cuisine
Aleksandr Zubkov/Moment/Getty Images

The terrible science behind popular weight loss products Most studies on dietary supplements or treatments for weight loss are flawed, scientists write in a new review. Sophie Putka has the story:

Back in 2012, daytime TV celebrity Dr. Oz touted the benefits of a miraculous new weight loss solution: green coffee bean extract.

He cited a study he claimed proved it. People, he said, didn’t need to change what they ate or how they exercised. They could simply “do whatever they wanted to do” and in the process lose “a pound per week.”

Spoiler alert: the study was bad and the data flawed. Green coffee bean extract amounted to an expensive placebo and six years later Dr. Oz lost a $5.25 million lawsuit over the false advertising.

Read the full story here.

More science, less junk below:

  1. Can intermittent fasting burn fat? Experts explain the complicated truth
  2. To prevent heart disease, Americans should embrace this underrated carb
  3. Weight lifters’ brains reveal one unexpected side effect of steroids

Scientists have identified 2,034 nearby star systems that hypothetically could find Earth.

NASA/AMNH OpenSpace via D. Desir

Scientists have new prime targets to look for aliens A new study found a list of stars that could directly see Earth. And at least seven of them have known habitable planets. Kiona Smith offers this mind-expanding story for your Thursday morning:

Don’t be too alarmed, but you can see Earth from more than 1,700 stars up to 300 light-years away. You know, if alien astronomers exist.

In a new study published Wednesday in Nature, two astronomers at Cornell University and the American Museum of Natural History took a look at stars within 100 parsecs (about 326 light-years) of the Sun to see which ones might be able to see the Earth through the transit method. And the results could eventually help us find life in space.

Read the full story.

Go deep on habitable planets:

Five ways space science is bettering life on Earth Here are five ways we can lead a more sustainable life on planet Earth — and halt the climate crisis — through space satellite technology. Tara Yarlagadda has put together this high-level guide:

NASA’s impressive Mars Perseverance rover might dominate the headlines, but behind the scenes, scientists are working on technology that’s arguably even more groundbreaking: using space satellites to save our planet and improve our way of life. Here are five ways scientists are using satellites to make life on Earth more sustainable.

See the full list with explanations.

Go deeper:

Conan O’Brien appears on his late-night show on TBS for the final time tonight.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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  • Before we go, happy birthday (🎂) to Mick Fleetwood (74), Solange Knowles (35), Minka Kelly (41), Mindy Kaling (42), Lionel Messi (34). And if you’ve got nothing else going on tonight, you could do worse than watching the final episode of Conan O’Brien’s late-night show. It airs at 10 p.m. — an hour earlier than its normal time — on TBS. Jack Black is the guest. (Source: AP.)

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