In 2010, a tiny little bone rocked the paleo anthropology world. After running it’s DNA to determine if the bone was Neanderthal or Early Modern Human, researchers were stunned to learn it belonged to a different human group altogether – that we previously knew NOTHING about. What’s more, Denisovans had contributed more to the genomes of current SE Asians (up to 6%) than Neanderthals had anywhere in the world!
The DNA indicated that Denisovans were more primitive than Neanderthals, but for years, three teeth and the tiny little-finger bone were the only fossils we had for this important human group. Recently, a previously-collected jawbone has been attributed to them, so we’re beginning to get a picture of some of their characteristics.
In 2018, we learned that they’d two-timed us – fossils of a half Neanderthal, half Denisovan hybrid female were found in the Siberian Denisova Cave, from which the group got it’s name. The odds of finding a first-generation hybrid have to be astronomically small, especially since Neanderthals rarely strayed into Asia. It continues to amaze me how much we’re learning from ancient DNA analysis.
One final note: You can go to GEDmatch to determine which of dozens of ancient human remains analyzed to-date you may have matches with. Mine shows that I have some Denisovan and Neanderthal matches, and I’m especially closely matched to the 45,000-year-old Ust-Ishim fossils that were found in Siberia. Pretty cool!