After the unearthing of a Neanderthal-Denisovan fossil, UK scientists are using groundbreaking techniques to learn more of the species’ complex bonds with humans
Of all the ancient peoples that have been studied by scientists, none has set puzzles quite so profound as those left behind by the Denisovans. Only a few tiny pieces of bone and teeth have ever been found of this long extinct species – fragmentary remains that would all fit snugly inside a cigarette packet.
Yet these fossil scraps suggest that Denisovans had a considerable influence on people today. Up to 6% of the genes now found in modern New Guineans and 3-5% of the DNA of aboriginal Australians is made up of Denisovan DNA, scientists have discovered. The gene that allows Tibetan people to survive high altitudes is also believed to have been inherited from them. This information tells us one thing: tens of thousands of years ago, modern humans encountered Denisovans – and had s*x with them. It is a startling discovery that raises many basic questions. Just who were the Denisovans? What did they look like? And what were their relations with the Neanderthals, their closest evolutionary cousins? Did they have tools and art like the Neanderthals?
Meet Denny, the ancient mixed-heritage mystery girl