Scientists using sophisticated techniques to determine the age of bone fragments, tooth and artifacts excavated in the Siberian cave gave new insights into a mysterious extinct human species that may have been more advanced than previously known.
The research published on Wednesday illuminates the species called Denisovani, known only from the remains of the Denis cave at the foothills of the Altai Mountains in Russia.
Although still enigmatic, they have left the genetic mark on our species, Homo sapiens, especially among indigenous populations in Papua New Guinea and Australia, where a small but significant percentage of Denisovan DNA was retained, which is a proof of the previous crossing of species.
Fossils and traces of DNA have shown that the Denisovans were present in the cave since at least 200,000 to 50,000 years ago, and the neanderthals, closely related extinct human species, were present between 200,000 and 80,000 years ago, revealing a new study. Stone tools pointed out that one or both species might have occupied the cave 300,000 years ago.
Last year, scientists described a piece of bone Denis cave girl whose mother was a neanderthal, and father Denisovan, proof of crossing. The girl, known as "Denny", lived about 100,000 years ago, a new research has shown.
Pendants made of animal teeth and bones from the cave were found to be aged between 43,000 and 49,000 years. It may have been made by Denisovani, suggesting a degree of intellectual sophistication.
"Traditionally, these objects are connected to Western Europe with the expansion of our species, and are considered to be the features of modern behavior, but in this case Denisovans can be their authors," said archaeologist Katerina Douka from the Max Planck Institute for Humanities History in Germany.
Our species originated in Africa some 300,000 years ago and later spread throughout the world. There is no evidence that Homo sapiens arrived to Denise Cave when these items were made.
Denizens are known only from three tooth and single finger bones.
"The new fossils would be particularly welcome, because we almost do not know about the physical appearance of Denisovana except they have pretty dental teeth," says geocologist Zenobia Jacobs from Wollongong University, Australia.
"Their DNA in modern Australian Aborigines and New Guinea people is challenging to suggest that they may have been quite widespread in Asia and perhaps in Southeast Asia, but we have to find some solid evidence of their presence in these regions to develop the whole Denisovans story," added geologist at Wollongong University Richard "Bert" Roberts.
The research was published in the journal Nature.