The ancient humans have been dubbed “Denisovans” after the caves in Siberia where their remains were found. There is also evidence that this population was widespread in Eurasia. A study in Nature journal shows that Denisovans co-existed with Neanderthals and interbred with other ancestors of the human species – perhaps around 50,000 years ago.
An international group of researchers sequenced a complete genome from one of the ancient hominins (human-like creatures), based on nuclear DNA extracted from a finger bone. Professor Chris Stringer: “It’s nothing short of sensational – we didn’t know know how ancient people in China related to these other humans”. Scientists say an entirely separate type of human identified from bones in Siberia co-existed and interbred with Neanderthal, Cro Magnon, and others.
According to the researchers, this provides confirmation there were at least four distinct types of human in existence with other races of anatomically modern humans in their African homeland. Along with modern humans, scientists knew about the Neanderthals and a dwarf human species found on the Indonesian island of Flores nicknamed “The Hobbit”. To this list, experts must now add the Denisovans.
The implications of the finding have been described by Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London as “nothing short of sensational”.
Scientists were able to analyse DNA from a tooth and from a finger bone excavated in the Denisova cave in southern Siberia. The individuals belong to a genetically distinct group of humans that were distantly related to Neanderthals but even more distantly related to the ancestors of Cro Magnon, universally considered the first fully "modern" human.
The finding adds weight to the theory that a different kind of human could have existed in Eurasia at the same time as other races or species of humo sapiens. Researchers have had enigmatic fossil evidence to support this view but now they have some firm evidence from the genetic study carried out by Professor Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. “A species of early human living in Europe evolved,” according to Professor Paabo. “There was a western form that was the Neanderthal and an eastern form, the Denisovans.”