In an extraordinary technical feat an international team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany have sequenced the genome of a recently discovered branch of extinct humans known as the Denisovans. The genome belonged to a little girl with dark skin, brown hair and brown eyes, and they were able to discover this from fossils that consisted only of a finger bone and two molars discovered in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia in 2008. Scientists don’t know the precise age of the material found, though they estimate it ranges anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 years of age. The genome was sequenced several years ago and published online, but this is the first extensive analysis of the data to be published.
The find was incredibly exciting, because this is the first time we have been able to identify a new species of hominins from their genetic profile alone. The finger bone and two teeth discovered are to date the only confirmed Denisovan fossils.
This makes the Denisovans, who had presence in Central Asia and Europe, the best understood ancient humans including the Neanderthals. The genome sequence also suggests that there was interbreeding among the Denisovans and our ancestors. The study of mutations show that we split from the Denisovans anywhere from 170,000 to 700,000 years ago. The gene transfer (via interbreeding) that seems to have occurred between Sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans makes dating the split more precisely very difficult.
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