Neanderthals and Denisovans BOTH lived in remote Siberian cave thousands of years ago and may even have used the shelter at the same time, study finds
- Two new studies are attempting to narrow down human ancestors' history
- Artifacts found in Denisova cave show Denisovans and Neanderthals lived there
- The study suggests that Denisovans had been home to 287,000 years ago
- Occupation may have overlapped with arrival of Neanderthals 193,000yrs ago
Two separate species of human ancestors may have occupied a cave in Siberia at the same time thousands of years ago.
Researchers have long been working to narrow down the timeline of hominic occupation at Denisova Cave after a trove of artefacts, including stone tools and bone points, were found at the site.
A pair of new studies analyzing the findings now suggests that the site was home to Denisovans as far back as 287,000 years ago, before possibly overlapping with the arrival of Neanderthals 193,000 years ago.
Much about the Denisovans remains a mystery; although their existence at the site is known from fragments of bone and teeth, the size and complexity of the cave (pictured) has made it difficult to study
The two new studies published in Nature this week may help to refine our understanding of the extinct hominins' history.
Much about the Denisovans remains a mystery; Although their existence at the site is known from fragments of bone and teeth, the size and complexity of the cave has made it difficult to study.
In one of the new efforts, a team led by researchers from the University of Wollongong used a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence dating to analyze sediments from Denisova Cave.
This allowed them to estimate when certain mineral grains were last exposed to sunlight in order to create a timeline for the fossils and artefacts that were found there.
According to the team, occupation at the site spans from around 300,000 years ago to 20,000 years ago.
Researchers have long been working to narrow down the timeline of hominic occupation at Denisova Cave after a trove of artefacts, including stone tools and bone points (pictured), were found at the site
The two new studies published in Nature this week may help to refine our understanding of the extinct hominins' history. A pendant found at Denisova cave is shown above
The researchers estimated the Denisovans appeared around 287,000 years ago and remained there until 55,000 years ago.
Neanderthals, on the other hand, appear in the records around 193,000 years ago until 97,000 years ago.
In the second paper, researchers used radiocarbon dating to evaluate the all-known Denisovan fossils.
The team presented a total of 50 new radiocarbon dates and described three new Denisovan fossil fragments.
Their analysis found Denisovans were at the site as early as 195,000 years ago, with the youngest dating to about 76,000 to 52,000 years ago.
A pair of new studies analyzing the findings now suggests that the site was home to Denisovans as far back as 287,000 years ago, before possibly overlapping with the arrival of Neanderthals 193,000 years ago
WHO WERE THE DENISOVANS?
The Denisovans are an extinct species of humans that appear to have lived in Siberia and even down to southeast Asia.
Although the remains of these mysterious early humans have only been discovered at one site – the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, DNA analysis has shown that they were widespread.
DNA from these early humans has been found in the genomes of modern humans over a wide area of Asia, suggesting they once covered a vast range.
DNA analysis of a fragment of pinky finger bone in 2010, (pictured) which belonged to a young girl, revealed that the Denisovans were a species related to, but different from, Neanderthals.
They are thought to have been a sister species of the Neanderthals, who lived in Western Asia and Europe at around the same time.
The two species appear to have separated from a common ancestor about 200,000 years ago, while they split from the modern human Homo sapien lineage around 600,000 years ago.
Bone and ivory beads found in the Denisova Cave were discovered in the same sediment layers as the Denisovan fossils, leading to suggestions that they had sophisticated tools and jewellery.
DNA analysis of a fragment of a fifth digit finger bone in 2010, which belonged to a young girl, revealed that they were a species related to, but different from, Neanderthals.
Later genetic studies suggested that the ancient human species split away from the Neanderthals sometime between 470,000 and 190,000 years ago.
Anthropologists have since puzzled over whether the cave had been temporary shelter for a group of these Denisovans or had formed a more permanent settlement.
DNA from molar teeth belonging to two other individuals, one adult male and one young female, showed that they died in the cave at least 65,000 years earlier.
Other tests have suggested that the tooth of the young female could be as old as 170,000 years.
A third molar was thought to have belonged to an adult male who died around 7,500 years before the girl whose pinky was discovered.
Bone points and tooth pendants found at the cave may also be the oldest Denisovan artefacts found in Northern Europe, the researchers say.
These were dated to about 49,000 to 43,000 years ago.
Together, the two new studies make for a more complete timeline of inhabitancy.
'Although there may still be some uncertainty about the detailed ages of the remains – given the nature and complexity of the deposits and the dating methods used – the general picture is now clear', archaeologist Robin Dennell wrote in an accompanying article on News & Views.