A fossil discovered almost four decades ago in a Chinese cave revealed valuable information about early humans. The fossilized fragment of a jawbone has been linked to Denisovans, an elusive relative of the Neanderthals. A small number of Denisovan fossils was found in Siberia, and many researchers believed that they proved that Denisovans interacted with Neanderthals.
The fragment was recovered from a site located in Gansu, a province of China. Initial tests suggest that the right half of a jawbone dates back to at least 160,000 years ago. The researchers didn’t find any DNA samples, but a few proteins were identified, and cross-analysis with Siberian DNA inferred that it was once a part of a Denisovan.
The discovery provides an answer to a large number of questions. The fossils recovered from Siberia suggested that the Denisovan physiology was optimized for life at high altitudes, a trait which was quite unusual since the Siberian caves tend to be close to the sea level. However, the Chinese cave where the fossil was discovered is located on the Tibetan Plateau, at the height of 3,280 meters.
Denisovans ancient humans populated the Tibetan Plateau
The team of researchers was surprised by the fact that a human relative was able to endure the harsh climate and thin air which was present on the plateau during the timeframe, as our species reached the same area more than 100,000 years later.
Older studies argued that the Denisovans lived in other areas beside Siberia since trace amounts of their DNA can be found among several Asian and Australian populations which couldn’t have passed through the region. While the new information allows us to learn more about our exciting ancestors the exact location where the Denisovans appeared has remained a mystery. They were named after Denisova cave, where the first fossils were found.
The anatomical details obtained from the study of the fossil will allow researchers to track down similar ones which could be spread among China. The results of the research were published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.