A girl’s tooth discovered in a cave deep in the forests of Laos, Southeast Asia, could be a new fossil record of the mysterious Denisovans, an extinct species of humans. The tooth would be between 164 and 131 thousand years old and provides new insights into the spread of this early human species.
According to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, a fossilized tooth discovered in a cave in northern Laos could have belonged to a Denisovan girl or young man, died between 164,000 and 131,000 years ago. If this hypothesis is confirmed, it would be the first fossil evidence of the passage of the Denisovans through Southeast Asia.
The Mysterious Man from Denisovan
The Denisovan man It is an extinct variety of hominids, which coexisted with Neanderthals and modern humans. This species or subspecies of the genus Homo was identified through DNA analysis of bone remains found in 2010 in the Denisova caves, in Altai (Siberia). Scientists believe that this hominid lived between a million and 40 thousand years ago.
Beyond these data, there are many mysteries about how this hominid spread, since it is believed that it was present in areas where they also lived. Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. However, its origin would be related to a migration different from those associated with modern humans and Neanderthals. In other words, the man from Denisova would have left Africa at another time.
According to a paper published in Nature, the molar is only the second Denisovan fossil to be found outside of Siberia, the site of these hominin discoveries. Its presence in Laos supports the idea that the species had a much broader geographic range than previously indicated by the fossil record. Although researchers already suspected that Denisovans lived in Southeast Asia, no physical evidence had been obtained until today.
Genetic studies after the discovery of Denisovan man have revealed that millions of people in Asia, Oceania and the Pacific Islands have traces of Denisovan DNA. This suggests that the species spread far beyond siberiaalthough until now the fossil records had only been able to identify remains in the Denisova caves themselves and in Tibet.
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The cool discovered, large for what is usual in other hominids, it bears a strong resemblance to the teeth found in the Denisovan mandible found in Tibet. It is worth noting that the dating of the rock and the animal teeth discovered next to the girl’s molar in the Laos cave reveal that the fossil predates the arrival of modern humans in the area.
One point to note is that at the time the girl to whom the identified molar belonged died, approximately 150,000 years ago, the area of Laos would have been slightly forested and temperate, completely different from the frigid temperatures Denisovans faced in Siberia and Tibet. Consequently, the ability to live in a wide range of climates would have differentiated Denisovans from Neanderthals, making them more similar to our own species.
A Middle Pleistocene Denisovan molar from the Annamite Chain of northern Laos. Demeter F, Zanolli C, Westaway KE et al. Nature Communications (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-29923-z