Mysterious ancient human found on the roof of the world

Mysterious ancient human found on the roof of the world

Denisovans are an extinct sister group of Neanderthals and are known from fragmentary fossils from Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia.

But the new remains - discovered in passing by a local monk almost thirty years ago - has led researchers to conclude that Denisovans were far more numerous, and far older, than previously thought.

He said numerous Xiahe locals remember the discovery made by the monk almost four decades ago, and that it would be "weird" for a monk to find a mandible somewhere else and then claim to have found it in the Baishiya Karst Cave.

"To have beings, even if a little archaic, living at 3,300 metres on the Tibetan plateau 160,000 years ago".

But before the discovery of this jawbone, researchers wondered why this genetic variant existed. But instead of grinding up the mandible, he handed it over to a local religious leader, who in turn passed it along to Guangrong Dong, a researcher at Lanzhou University in China who studied paleolithic fossils.

The mutation is almost identical to that found in the DNA of Denisovans discovered in Siberia - at an altitude of less than 700 metres. The researchers' efforts to extract and analyze DNA from the specimen were fruitless, but they managed to isolate a handful of proteins from one molar and compared them with proteins predicted from the DNA sequences of hominin species and other primates.

Frido Welker of the MPI-EVA and the University of Copenhagen said, "The ancient proteins in the mandible are highly degraded and clearly distinguishable from modern proteins that may contaminate a sample". An analysis of ancient proteins extracted from the fossil - dubbed Xiahe mandible - shows that it belonged to a member of the mysterious human-like group known as Denisovans.

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Scientists found that this mandible is preserved well and has a robust primitive shape with large molars still attached to it. Thankfully, as Hublin explained to Gizmodo, a layer of carbonite crust on the mandible allowed his team to date the fossil, which means they might be able to link it with a particular stratigraphic layer.

Chuan-Chou Shen from the Department of Geosciences at National Taiwan University, who conducted the dating, says, "This minimum age equals that of the oldest specimens from the Denisova Cave".

To aid their investigation of the mandible, Zhang and Chen teamed up with researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

The entrance of the cave is relatively flat with a gentle slope up to the inside, where two small trenches were plotted in 2018.

Sitting 40 meters (131 feet) above a Chinese riverbed on the Tibetan Plateau is the Baishiya Karst Cave, a famous modern Buddhist pilgrimage destination now decorated with billowing Tibetan prayer flags.

"Previous fossil remains of Denisovans were limited to some teeth and part of a pinkie bone", said NYU anthropologist Shara Bailey. "Our analyses pave the way towards a better understanding of the evolutionary history of Middle Pleistocene hominins in East Asia".

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