Third cave of Denisovans found in Indochina

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(ORDO NEWS) — They lived in the territory of modern Laos and ate rhinoceros meat.

A group of scientists led by Fabrice Demeter from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) examined a molar that once belonged to a hominin who lived in the Middle Pleistocene. The results are presented in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications .

The tooth was found in the limestone cave Tam-Ngu-Khao-2 (Cobra Cave) in the Annam Mountains (they are also the Truong Son Mountains). This mountain range stretches along the eastern edge of the Indochina peninsula, and the cave itself is located on the territory of Laos.

Third Cave of Denisovans Found in Indochina 2
a) A snapshot of the site, the red circle indicates the entrance to the cave; b) stratigraphy and sampling sites of the cave infill; c, d, e) excavations in the cave

Scientists judge the presence of ancient human relatives in continental Southeast Asia primarily by infrequent finds of stone tools and very rare (they are poorly preserved in the local climate) human remains. Several human lineages are known to have existed there, but their exact ranges are unclear.

The authors used a number of dating methods and determined that the age of the deposits surrounding the tooth is 131-164 thousand years.

Scientists point out that the molar is not worn out and completed its formation shortly before the death of the owner. As additional analyzes showed, most likely, this is a tooth of a girl of the Homo genus , who died at the age of 3.5-8.5 years.

The scientists compared the external and internal morphology of the tooth with those of other hominins, including Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo erectus and modern humans, and concluded that it belonged to a Denisovan girl. And this makes the Tam-Ngu-Khao-2 cave the third of the Denisovan habitats discovered to date.

Third Cave of Denisovans Found in Indochina 3
Found tooth of a Denisovan girl

Recall that before that, the remains of Denisovans were found in the Denisova Cave (hence the name) in Altai and in the Baishia Cave on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Genetic analysis has shown that some populations of Southeast Asia , as well as those of Australia and Oceania, are of partial Denisovan origin.

But this was no proof that the Denisovans lived so far from Altai and Tibet. The genes could have been transferred by their descendants of mixed blood – that is, as a result of the hybridization of Homo sapiens and Denisovans.

In 2018, all in the same Denisova Cave, scientists found bone remains that belonged to a girl whose mother was a Neanderthal and whose father was a Denisovan (and also, probably, with an admixture of Neanderthal blood). That is, it was proved that the Denisovans completely coexisted and interbred with other lines of Homo .

If we talk about Southeast Asia, there is a lot of evidence of the presence of Homo erectus there from the early to late Pleistocene. However, the identification of other late and middle Pleistocene Homo Asian specimens remains a matter of controversy.

For example, a recent analysis of a Harbin skull from China caused lively discussions: then the skull was proposed to be attributed to a new species Homo longi , with which not all scientists agreed.

If the Chinese researchers who described the skull tried to “count” it as a new species (this kind of discovery is very prestigious), then their colleagues from other countries insisted, not unreasonably, on the need to show that the skull does not belong to the already known species – Denisovans.

It is still impossible to unambiguously resolve this issue: their skulls have not been preserved in the Denisova Cave and in Tibet.


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