Mystery human species revealed

DNA analysis of early human remains from a Siberian cave has revealed the existence of a mystery human species. A team of researchers speculates that this could have been Homo erectus, which lived in Europe and Asia a million years ago or more. Meanwhile, the researchers report that they have also obtained the most complete DNA sequence ever from a Neanderthal. Details of the work appear in Nature journal. Finds at Denisova cave in Siberia have deepened our understanding of the human groups living in Eurasia before modern humans (Homo sapiens) arrived on the scene.

The Neanderthals were already well known, but DNA analysis of a finger bone and a tooth excavated at the cave revealed evidence of a human type living 40,000 years ago that was distinct both from Neanderthals and modern humans. When this work was published in 2010, the team behind the discovery dubbed this human species the “Denisovans” after the Siberian site.

The Neanderthal toe bone was found in the same cave in 2010, though in a deeper layer of sediment that is thought to be about 10,000-20,000 years older. The cave also contains modern human artefacts, meaning that at least three groups of people occupied the cave at different times. A high quality genome sequence was obtained from the small bone using techniques developed by Prof Svante Paabo and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and it reveals some interesting insights about Neanderthals and humans. For example, the researchers say, the Neanderthal woman was highly inbred and could have been the offspring of half-siblings who shared the same mother. Edited from Mystery early human revealed by DNA data.

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