(ORDO NEWS) — Human DNA found in a cave in southern China indicates that the inhabitants were closely related to the ancestors of the Native Americans.
The shape of this skull suggests extinct human species such as Neanderthals, but DNA from modern humans with a strong connection to Native Americans.
The people living in the red deer cave in southern China were not, as some previously thought, representatives of an extinct species of people.
DNA analysis shows that they were largely part of the modern human family, but the population turned out to be scientifically important for a different reason.
Human remains were first found in a red deer cave in Yunnan, southern China, in 1989. Concerns intensified in 2012 when new discoveries showed that they may represent some of the last surviving members of the non-Homo sapiens human species.
Alternatively, it was thought that the cave dwellers could be a hybrid population between Neanderthals or Denisovans and modern humans.
All this was based on the shape of the bones and teeth left in the Malu dong cave. Neither the newly discovered bones nor the re-examination of specimens held in museums yielded sequenceable DNA at the time, which is not surprising given the area’s warm climate.
An article in Current Biology changed that, and with it our understanding of who the people of Malu Dong Cave were.
“The ancient DNA method is a really powerful tool,” senior author Dr. Bing Su of the Cumming Institute of Zoology said in a statement.
“This tells us quite definitely that the people from the Malu dong cave were modern humans and not archaic species like Neanderthals or Denisovans, despite their unusual morphological features.”
DNA was extracted from a skull found in a cave and dated to be around 14,000 years old. Ironically, the Neanderthal skull shape and relatively small space in the brain were key features that led researchers to think that cave dwellers at the time were not modern humans.
Having established the status of the Red Deer Cave humans as members of our species, Su et al. then searched for their closest surviving relatives by comparing skull DNA with that of existing populations.
The analysis demonstrates strong ties to Native American peoples as well as modern East Asians. Compared to other ancient DNA, the closest similarity was found to a 13,900-year-old sample from Siberia and the oldest human DNA found in the Americas.
It is no longer news that Native Americans have a strong historical connection to East Asia, but the reed deer cave finds led the authors to propose a different migration route than the one previously presented.
Rather than suggest that the first people to cross the Pacific were longtime inhabitants of Siberia, they suggest that the population lived in southern China for a time before some traveled north, probably along a coastal route through Japan.
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