Denosovian Hominins Discovered Outside Siberia

A Tibetan monk came across this mandible in 1980 while praying in the Baishya Karst Cave. (Dongju Zhang, Lanzhou University)

Denisovan Fossil Is Identified Outside Siberia for the First Time

by Brigit Katz Smithsonian.Com

Fossil evidence of the Denisovans, an extinct hominin species first identified in 2010, has for years been limited to a few fragmentary specimens found in a single Siberian cave. But there were hints that our ancient cousins had travelled far beyond this little pocket of the world; modern humans in East Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands and the Americas all carry Denisovan DNA.

Now, according to Carl Zimmer of the New York Times, a new scientific paper in Nature has revealed that a hulking jawbone discovered high on the Tibetan Plateau in 1980 belonged to a Denisovan. The landmark research marks the first time that Denisovan fossil evidence has been identified outside Siberia, bolstering scientists’ suspicions that the mysterious hominins were once widespread across East Asia.

The modern-day story of the mandible begins with a Tibetan monk who, in 1980, stumbled upon the fossil while praying in a cave located some 10,700 feet above sea level in Xiahe, China. The monk turned the jawbone over to the Sixth Living Buddha, a religious figure, who in turn passed it on to Lanzhou University in northwestern China. There, the fossil sat for some three decades, until climatologist Fahu Chen and archaeologist Dongju Zhang began studying it in 2010—around the same time that knowledge of the Denisovans was first coming to light.

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