A study presented to the Royal Society meeting in London on ancient DNA revealed some radical news.
The genome of one of our ancient ancestors, the Denisovans, contains a segment of DNA that seems to have come from another species currently unknown to science.
All modern humans whose ancestry originates outside of Africa, owe about 2% of their genome to Neanderthals. Certain populations living in Oceania, such as those in Papua New Guinea and the Australian Aboriginals, share about 4% of their DNA with Denisovans, members of a group that was named after a cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, Russia, where they were discovered. The cave contains remains that are deposited between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago.
Most surprisingly though, said David Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who worked on those studies, is that the genomes indicate that Denisovans interbred with yet another extinct population of archaic humans that lived in Asia more than 30,000 years ago — one that is neither human nor Neanderthal possibly from Asia.
So what were they?!?
Scientists, of course, hotly debated this when these results came out. They began speculating about what this unknown species could be. Some have suggested that a group may have branched off to Asia from the Homo heidelbergensis, who resided in Africa about half a million years ago. They are believed to be the ancestors of Europe’s Neanderthals. However there are others, such as Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the London Natural History Museum, who admitted that they really “don’t have the faintest idea” what this mystery species could be. Traces of the unknown new genome were detected in two teeth and a finger bone of a Denisovan, which was all discovered in a Siberian cave.
Hey…ever watch the movie Lord Of The Rings?
There is not much data available about the appearance of Denisovans due to the lack of fossil availability, but the geneticists and researchers had succeeded in arranging their entire genome very precisely.
“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world – that there were many hominid populations,” said Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London. For now, what do you think? Who or what was this ancient mystery species?