Jawbone from Tibet identified as Denisovan

Denisovans are an extinct human group similar to Neanderthals. Traces of both can be found in modern human genes, so interbreeding took place.

ABC (2016): Aboriginal Australians, Pacific Islanders carry DNA of unknown human species, research analysis suggests

They found Europeans and Chinese people carry about 2.8 per cent of Neanderthal DNA.

But Europeans have no Denisovan ancestry, and Chinese people only have 0.1 per cent.

Modern populations from South Pacific regions including Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, West Papua, and the Maluku Islands have 2.74 per cent of their DNA as coming from Neanderthals.

Mr Bohlender estimates the amount of Denisovan DNA in these people is as low as about 1.11 per cent, not the 3 to 6 per cent estimated by other researchers.

Therefore, Mr Bohlender and his colleagues came to the conclusion that a third group of hominids may have bred with the ancestors of Melanesians.

“The sequencing of complete Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes has provided several insights into human history. One important insight stems from the observation that modern non-Africans and archaic populations share more derived alleles than they should if there was no admixture between them. We now know that the ancestors of modern non-Africans met, and introgressed with, Neanderthals and Denisovans.”

Until recently the only identified Denisovan remains had been found in Siberia.

The Denisovans or Denisova hominins are an extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans in the genus Homo. Pending its taxonomic status, it currently carries temporary species or subspecies names Homo denisova,[1] Homo altaiensis, Homo sapiens denisova, or Homo sp. Altai. In 2010, scientists announced the discovery of an undated finger bone fragment of a juvenile female found in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, a cave that has also been inhabited by Neanderthals and modern humans.

The lineage that developed into Denisovans and Neanderthals is estimated to have separated from the lineage that developed into “anatomically modern” Homo sapiens approximately 600,000 to 744,000 years ago. Denisovans and Neanderthals then significantly diverged from each other genetically a mere 300 generations after that. Several types of humans, including Denisovans, Neanderthals and related hybrids, may have each dwelt in the Denisova Cave in Siberia over thousands of years, but it is unclear whether they ever co-habitated in the cave. Denisovans may have interbred with modern humans in New Guinea as recently as 15,000 years ago.


Now what is believed to be a jawbone, found  found in a cave in Tibet in 1980, has been identified as Denisovan.

Stuff:  Ancient humans were more resourceful than we give them credit for

Scientists are being urged to step up the search for ancient human remains in Oceania and Asia, after researchers revealed a 160,000-year-old jawbone found in Tibet is from the archaic human Denisovan group.

Previously Denisovans – an extinct sister group of Neanderthals – were only known from a small collection of fossil fragments found in 2010 at Denisova Cave in Siberia.

Researchers have now identified the lower jawbone – found on the Tibetan Plateau in Baishiya Karst Cave in Xiahe, China in 1980 by a local monk – as being from a population closely related to the Siberian Denisovans.

“The Xiahe mandible likely represents the earliest hominin fossil on the Tibetan Plateau,” researcher Fahu Chen, director of the Institute of Tibetan Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said.

These people had already adapted to living in this high-altitude low-oxygen environment long before Homo sapiens even arrived in the region.”

Unless they find other remains that show otherwise.

Murray Cox, associate professor of computational biology at Massey University, said it used to be thought only modern humans could live on the Tibetan Plateau, and only from about 30,000 years ago.

“There’s a strong bias in much of our thinking – we tend to believe that only modern humans are clever enough to go to certain places or live in certain ways. It’s now clear we’ve overestimated our uniqueness. Archaic humans like Denisovans were much more resourceful and adaptable than we have given them credit for,” Cox said.

Perhaps most important was the finding that human remains misclassified in the 1980s were now being recognised as Denisovan

“This suggests that other Denisovan bones and remains are hiding in plain sight – sitting in museums and university collections around the world  – and we just need to put the correct label on them to get a better idea of what Denisovans looked like. This study is the first, probably of many, that I expect will find them,” Cox said.

Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory director Nic Rawlence said Denisovans had left a genetic legacy within the genomes of east Asian, Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians through interbreeding.

“The genes that allow modern day Tibetans to survive at high altitudes can be traced back to interbreeding between Denisovans and the ancestors of Tibetans,” Rawlence, a senior lecturer in ancient DNA at the University of Otago, said.

“Until now this has always intrigued scientists as there was no evidence of Denisovans in central east Asia, and modern humans only arrived on the scene around 30,000-40,000 years ago.

“The 160,000-year-old Tibetan Denisovan goes someway to potentially explaining where and when this interbreeding occurred.” But the jury was still out on whether Denisovans were adapted to living at high altitudes. It may be that the genes involved were initially used for something else, then repurposed for surviving at high altitudes.

Research on this is obviously ongoing.


Leave a comment


  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  2nd May 2019

    Isn’t Denis O’Van Irish ?

  2. harryk

     /  2nd May 2019

    And this last month-

    ‘Scientists Discover a New Human Species in Northern Philippines’

    ‘Filipino-led scientists have discovered remains of a new human species that is believed to have lived tens of thousands of years ago in the northern Philippines … The skeletal remains were dubbed Homo luzonensis…“Based on our studies, the species lived at least 50,000 to 67,000 years ago,” Mijares said.’


    • Duker

       /  2nd May 2019

      Most of the pieces are around the size of a finger nail or a toothpick.
      Any conclusions about a new species seem speculative
      The published abstract doesn’t seem to indicate a new species as claimed in the news media…..oh dear , must be ‘misquoted’ by a click bait journalist
      “Interestingly, the Callao metatarsal also falls within the morphological and size ranges of Homo habilis and H. floresiensis. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248410000850

      • harryk

         /  3rd May 2019

        ‘click bait journalist’

        Well bugger me. Benarnews is the sister site of Radio Free Asia, funded by the US Dept of State. I imagine clickbait would be among the mildest insults they’ve ever had. Good little site, interesting insight into the priorities and thinking of State in the region, although you wouldn’t expect political neutrality given who they work for.

  3. scooter74

     /  3rd May 2019

    ‘Most of the pieces are around the size of a finger nail or a toothpick’

    That’s irrelevant when DNA can be harvested. The discovery of the Denisovans is very exciting news for history.
    In his great essay ‘Our Sea of Islands’ Epeli Hau’ofa celebrated the journeys of his ancestors, who crossed the Pacific in the light of stars & the wakes of whales. But new data suggests that even Hau’ofa’s vision of epic ancient voyaging may have been incomplete.

    This month a group of scientists has published proof that a separate human species lived on Luzon Island sixty-seven thousand years ago. The revelation of Homo Luzonensis comes shortly after DNA testing revealed that another human species, the Denisovans, reached ancient Melanesia.

    Like the Denisovans, whose DNA can be found in significant quantities in Papuan & western Pacific peoples, Homo Luzonensis successfully crossed large areas of open seas, as they moved east out of mainland Asia. Even during Ice Ages, Luzon has never enjoyed a land bridge to Asia.

    The history of the Pacific will now have to be rewritten, so that it includes extinct human species as well as homo sapiens. Not even the visionary Epeli Hau’ofa could have foreseen such a thing, when he wrote ‘Our Sea of Islands’ in the 1990s.


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