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Last year, the Neanderthal Genome Project, led by the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo, finally established that modern humans in Europe and Asia (but not Africa) have some admixture of Neanderthal genes, thus ending decades of speculation. And in December last year the same team produced a total surprise: a genomic analysis of human remains from a cave in Denisova, southern Siberia, which proved to be genetically distinct from all known human types. The team declined at this stage to give the find a Linnean species name, but, by analogy with the Neanderthals, named it Denisovan after the location. The actual Denisovan specimens in Siberia were 30-50,000 years old, and the type predated both modern humans and Neanderthals.
Apart from having what is probably a new species to fit into the pattern of human evolution, the big shock of the Denisovans is that they also have contributed something to the modern human stock in Melanesia (the islands north of Australia that include Papua New Guinea). We now see a pattern emerging of interbreeding between modern humans and earlier types: Neanderthals in Europe and Asia and Denisovans in Melanesia. There will surely be further finds. Especially interesting is East Asia, first peopled by Homo erectus as long as 1.7m years ago.
Format : Hardback
Size : 153 x 234mm
Pages : 352
Published : 20 Jun 2011
Publisher : Allen Lane