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Denisovan jawbone from 160 kya starts to talk…

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Well, you have to love National Geographic’s title: Mysterious ancient human found on the ‘roof of the world’

Their view: “ fossil jaw shatters records for the earliest inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau—and gives new insights into the enigmatic Denisovans.”

The Denisovans, only discovered a few years ago, were widespread and lived at a high altitude:

The research marks the first time an ancient human has been identified solely through the analysis of proteins. With no usable DNA, scientists examined proteins in the specimen’s teeth, raising hopes that more fossils could be identified even when DNA is not preserved…

Until now, everything scientists have learnt about Denisovans has come from a handful of teeth and bone fragments from Denisova Cave in Russia’s Altai Mountains. DNA from these remains revealed that the Denisovans were a sister group to Neanderthals, both descending from a population that split away from modern humans about 550,00–765,000 years ago. And at Denisova Cave, the two groups seem to have met and interbred: a bone fragment described last year belonged an ancient-human hybrid individual who had a Denisovan father and Neanderthal mother. Matthew Warren, “Biggest Denisovan fossil yet spills ancient human’s secrets” at Nature

In short, we really know what happened but we at least know who some of the players were.

This Tibetan find was the first time remnants of this gorup were found far from the Denisova Cave, but that said,

“Given that Denisovan DNA is found in present-day people all over Asia, it was almost a matter of time until someone would find a Denisovan at some other place than Denisova Cave,” Svante Pääbo, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who led the team that first discovered the Denisovan species, writes in an email to The Scientist. Shawna Williams, “Denisovan Fossil Identified in Tibetan Cave” at The Scientist

One of the finders tells us

But the most extraordinary aspect of our findings, in my opinion, is the demonstration that such archaic hominins could successfully live in this challenging high-altitude environment, more than 120,000 years before modern H. sapiens settled on the Tibetan Plateau. It seems that a gene variant that helps modern populations on the Tibetan Plateau to adapt to high-altitude hypoxia was inherited from these Denisovans.

A new phase in the deciphering of human evolution in Asia has begun. Human evolution in this part of the world is much more complex than was thought; the simplistic model of a local and direct evolution from Homo erectus to present-day Asians needs to be abandoned. And from the Baishiya Karst Cave, there will surely be more discoveries to come. Jean-Jacques Hublin, “How We Found an Elusive Hominin in China” at Sapiens

Yes, the simplistic stories are definitely getting updated:

There are, however, limits to what can be said from proteins. Denisovans had a stunning amount of diversity. A study published earlier this year suggested that what we call Denisovans might actually be three distinct genetic lines, one of which is nearly as different from other Denisovans as they are from Neanderthals. But the similarity of proteins across groups and through generations makes it difficult to pinpoint precisely how similar the owner of the jaw is to these three Denisovan lines—or if it was from yet another sister group.Maya Wei-Haas, “Mysterious ancient human found on the ‘roof of the world’” at National Geographic

Have you noticed how new finds keep leading us back to ourselves, not to the missing link?

See also: In any Darwinian scheme, someone must be the subhuman. Otherwise, there is no beginning to human history.

Was Neanderthal man fully human? The role racism played in assessing the evidence


Do racial assumptions prevent recognizing Homo erectus as fully human?

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