Wednesday, November 13, 2013

National Geographic Special on Denisova

National Geographic is running a special report on the importance of the Denisova hominin for later human evolution.  The timing is curious since this was big news two years ago, but “The Case of the Missing Human Ancestor” goes into the depths of the discovery, the tests done, the complex stratigraphy of the cave, and the significance of what the Max Planck Institute found.  Further, it is written by Jamie Shreeve, and he is always a good read.  He writes:
In the summer of 2010 a human toe bone had emerged, along with the enormous tooth, from Layer 11. In Leipzig a graduate student named Susanna Sawyer analyzed its DNA. At the symposium in 2011 she presented her results for the first time. To everyone’s shock, the toe bone had turned out to be Neanderthal, deepening the mystery of the place.

The green stone bracelet found earlier in Layer 11 had almost surely been made by modern humans. The toe bone was Neanderthal. And the finger bone was something else entirely. One cave, three kinds of human being. “Denisova is magical,” said Pääbo. “It’s the one spot on Earth that we know of where Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans all lived.” All week, during breaks in the conference, he kept returning alone to the cave. It was as if he thought he might find clues by standing where the little girl may have stood and touching the cool stone walls she too may have touched.
Look for this site to continue to influence models of later human evolution. There seem to have been several locations at which there were both, at various times, Neandertals and modern humans.

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