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Love-Child of Cassandra and Sisyphus1/31/2019 2:51:20 am PST

Yesterday’s big science news was the publishing of a couple of papers in Nature, in regards to Denisova cave:

Timing of archaic hominin occupation of Denisova Cave in southern Siberia

Age estimates for hominin fossils and the onset of the Upper Palaeolithic at Denisova Cave

Nature also included a summary article:

Ancient-human species mingled in Siberia’s hottest property for 300,000 years

Neanderthals and Denisovans might have lived side by side for tens of thousands of years, scientists report in two papers in Nature1,2.

The long-awaited studies are based on the analysis of bones, artefacts and sediments from Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, which is dotted with ancient-human remains. They provide the first detailed history of the site’s 300,000-year occupation by different groups of ancient humans.


The researchers cannot find out precisely when the groups lived together, or whether they ever shared the cave. But the existence of the hybrid individual — who lived around 100,000 years ago — means that the groups must have lived close enough to each other to meet at that time. Furthermore, Denny’s father harboured a sliver of Neanderthal ancestry, suggesting that his ancestors had previously interbred with Neanderthals.


Homo sapiens might also have lived in the cave, the researchers suggest. Bone pendants and tools — similar to those made by early modern humans in Europe — from the cave’s younger layers date to between 49,000 and 43,000 years old, reports a team led by archaeologists Katerina Douka at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and Tom Higham at the University of Oxford, UK, in the second Nature paper2.

The researchers dated one hominin bone to around 46,000-50,000 years ago, but could not retrieve any DNA to investigate which species it belonged to.

No other H. sapiens remains from this period, known as the Initial Upper Palaeolithic, have been found in Denisova cave or the wider Altai region. For this reason, the Russian archaeologists who spearhead the site’s excavation have argued that Denisovans made the artefacts, which are more sophisticated than the site’s older stone tools. But Higham would like to see more proof before linking the artefacts to any group. “It’s possible Denisovans could have made the Upper Palaeolithic. It’s possible the Russians are right. At the moment, with the evidence we have, we can’t really be sure,” he says.


Some of the artifacts appear to be jewelry. The CNN article has an image:

This cave sheltered some of the first known humans 300,000 years ago

Whether or not it was the Denisovans who made the artefacts will be debated until hard evidence can be found of H. sapien occupying the cave at an early date.