Denisovans and Neanderthals Coexisted and Crossbred 100,000 Years Ago

The cave was occupied by Denisovans from at least 200,000 years ago, with stone tools in the deepest deposits suggesting human occupation may have begun as early as 300,000 years ago. Neanderthals visited the site between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago.

A new scientific study has found that both Neanderthals and Denisovans lived in a remote Siberian cave some 100,000 years ago and may even have used the cave as a shelter at the same time.

Scientists have recently revealed that two entirely different species of ancient humans may have occupied a remote cave in Siberia, 100,000 years ago.

For a long time have experts attempted to understand the timeline of hominin occupation at the Denisova Cave in Siberia after discovering a plethora of ancient artifacts, including needles, tiaras, stone tools, and human remains.

Natalia Belousova (Russian Academy of Sciences) and Tom Higham taking samples from the Main Chamber at Denisova Cave. Image Credit: Sergey Zelinski, Russian Academy of Sciences.
Natalia Belousova (Russian Academy of Sciences) and Tom Higham taking samples from the Main Chamber at Denisova Cave. Image Credit: Sergey Zelinski, Russian Academy of Sciences.

Now, a new study analyzing various discoveries indicates that the Denisova cave was most likely home to the Denisovans as far as 287,000 years ago, overlapping with the arrival of Neanderthals 193,000 years ago.

As explained by Phys.org, “The new studies show that the cave was occupied by Denisovans from at least 200,000 years ago, with stone tools in the deepest deposits suggesting human occupation may have begun as early as 300,000 years ago. Neanderthals visited the site between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, with “Denny”, the girl of mixed ancestry, revealing that the two groups of hominins met and interbred around 100,000 years ago.”

Changing History

Professor Tom Higham and his team at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit worked in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team from the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia, Canada, and Germany, in the detailed research over five years, to date the Denísova cave.

Located in the foothills of the Altai Mountains of Siberia, it is the only site in the world known to have been occupied by the two ancient hominin groups on various occasions.

The two new studies published in ‘Nature‘ now set a timeline in which Neandertals and their enigmatic cousins, the Denisovans, were present at the site and the environmental conditions they faced before they became extinct.

The Denisova cave attracted worldwide attention for the first time in 2010, with the publication of the genome obtained from the finger bone of a girl who belonged to a group of archaic humans not previously identified in the paleoanthropological record; the Denisovans.

“While these new studies have lifted the veil on some of the mysteries of Denisova Cave, other intriguing questions remain to be answered by further research and future discoveries,” Richard Roberts, co-author of both studies and director of the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Archaeological Science, said in a statement.

But many other interesting discoveries resulted from artifacts recovered from the cave.

In 2018, a bone fragment recovered by scientists at the Research Laboratory for Archeology and Art History in Oxford and the University of Manchester revealed the genome of a child belonging to both Neanderthal and Denisovan parents, the first direct evidence of crossbreeding between two groups of archaic hominins.

But despite the fact that we have found out a lot about the cave and its inhabitants for the past few years, more details about the Denisovans remains a mystery. Though their existence at the site is known from fragments of bone and teeth, the size and complexity of the cave have made it extremely difficult to study.

That’s why a group of scientists from the University of Wollongong used a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence dating to study the sediments from the Denisova Cave.

This made it possible to estimate when certain mine grains were last exposed to the sunlight.

This, in turn, allowed them to come up with a timeline explaining the artifacts and fossils that have been recovered at the cave.

As noted in the new studies, occupation at the site spans from around 300,000 years ago to 20,000 years ago.

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