Ancient humans

Who were the Denisovans?

Fossils from these ancient humans are scarce, but we're starting to learn more.

Maayan Harel

Shutterstock

You’ve heard of Neanderthals. And you might have even heard of Australopithecus afarensis, an even more ancient ancestor to modern humans.

But have you heard of the Denisovans?

Shutterstock

Scientists didn’t even know about this ancient hominin until 2010, when DNA was sequenced from a finger bone found in Siberian cave.

Shutterstock

Aside from that finger bone, scientists have also discovered a few teeth and bone fragments.

Shutterstock

So far, all we really know about them is that they lived between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago in an area spanning from Siberia to Southeast Asia.

Shutterstock

And Denisovan DNA can be found in some people’s genomes, like Neanderthal DNA.

Shutterstock

AND Denisovans and Neaderthals interbred 100,000 years ago, according to fossil data. But not much else is known about them because their remains are so scarce.

Last year, scientists using genetic markers for anatomy reconstructed the possible face of a 75,000 year old Denisovan girl.Maayan Harel

Shutterstock

Far from the Siberian cave where the first fossils were found, scientists recently discovered a Denisovan fossil in a cave on the Tibetan Plateau.

The fossil is a jawbone, originally found in 1980. But it was only recently that DNA from the sample confirmed it belonged to a Denisovan.

Shutterstock

Further research in the Tibetan cave revealed more DNA fragments that matched those found in the Siberian cave, suggesting that these ancient humans were more geographically widespread than once thought.

Shutterstock

Scientists wonder whether these ancient humans had special adaptations to help them live at such high altitudes, and if they interbred with modern humans to pass along those adaptations.

Much more research is needed to fully characterize this human ancestor.

Shutterstock

Read more science and nature stories here.

Shutterstock

Share