Scientists have uncovered the most complete remains yet from the mysterious ancient-hominin group known as the Denisovans. The jawbone, discovered high on the Tibetan Plateau and dated to more than 160,000 years ago, is also the first Denisovan specimen found outside the Siberian cave in which the hominin was found a decade ago — confirming suspicions that Denisovans were more widespread than the fossil record currently suggests.
Denisovans were capable of crossing major geographical barriers, including the persistent sea lanes that separated Asia from Wallacea and New Guinea. They therefore spanned an incredible diversity of environments, from temperate continental steppes to tropical equatorial islands. The emerging picture suggests that far from moving into sparsely inhabited country, modern humans experienced repeated and persistent interactions as they expanded out of Africa into this highly structured archaic landscape across Eurasia.
These specimens display a combination of primitive and derived morphological features that is different from the combination of features found in other species in the genus Homo (including Homo floresiensis and Homo sapiens) and warrants their attribution to a new species, which we name Homo luzonensis. The presence of another and previously unknown hominin species east of the Wallace Line during the Late Pleistocene epoch underscores the importance of island Southeast Asia in the evolution of the genus Homo.
Bone daggers made from Human bones, both ancient and modern, mostly from New Guinea
Overall, our results point to the existence of more than one paleodeme in East Asia during this period: one that can be taxonomically classified as H. erectus sensu stricto (represented by fossils such as Zhoukoudian, Hexian, and Yiyuan) and a second that is characterized by the expression of derived traits more commonly found in later Homo
Azzo compared to possible Denisovan skull remains from Java
In another startling suggestion, the study implies one of those groups may have survived and encountered modern humans as recently as 15,000 to 30,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years later than researchers had thought. “A late surviving lineage [of Denisovans] could have interbred with Homo sapiens” in Southeast Asia, paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, not a member of the team, said in a Skype interview during a session at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists here. The new study was presented Thursday at the meeting.