DNA puts Neandertal relatives in Siberia for 60,000 years

denisovan tooth

DENISOVAN ROOTS  DNA from two teeth discovered in Siberia, including this sturdy molar, suggests that Stone Age Neandertal relatives called Denisovans inhabited that region for tens of thousands of years.

Bence Viola

Mysterious Neandertal relatives known as Denisovans may have hung out in southern Siberia for 60,000 years or so.

Until now, Denisovans were known only by DNA from a finger bone found in Siberia’s Denisova Cave in 2008. Susanna Sawyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues have now extracted DNA from two Denisovan teeth found in the same cave.

The finger and one of the teeth had many more modifications in their mitochondrial DNA than corresponding DNA from the other tooth. To have accumulated that many changes, Denisovans must have lived in the area for 60,000 years, the scientists report online November 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The two younger finds date to about 50,000 years ago, suggesting the other tooth is 110,000 years old.

Nuclear DNA comparisons show that all three specimens from Denisova Cave belonged to a common population distinct from Neandertals and modern humans (SN: 8/25/12, p. 22). 

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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