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

Mitochondrial DNA from one tooth displayed considerably fewer modifications than corresponding DNA from the other two finds. Denisovans would have lived in the region for 60,000 years for that many genetic changes to accumulate, the scientists report November 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The two younger finds date to roughly 50,000 years ago or more.

Nuclear DNA comparisons show that all three specimens from Denisova cave belonged to a common population distinct from Neandertals and modern humans.

Bruce Bower

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

More Stories from Science News on Anthropology

From the Nature Index

Paid Content