Mysterious ancient hominids known as Denisovans and their evolutionary cousins, Neandertals, frequented a southern Siberian cave starting a surprisingly long time ago, two new studies find.
Evidence for visits by those populations to Denisova Cave, beginning by around 200,000 years ago for Neandertals and possibly as early as about 300,000 years ago for Denisovans.
It was known that members of the two extinct hominid species had occupied the Siberian cave at a few points during the Stone Age. But the new evidence offers the best look to date at when Denisovans and Neandertals reached the site, and how the two hominid species may have interacted, including interbreeding.
“It now looks like Denisovans can be placed at the site from close to 300,000 years ago to about 50,000 years ago, with Neandertals there for periods in between,” says paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London who did not participate in the research. But it’s still uncertain whether hominid fossils from the cave derive from individuals who died during periodic occupations or whose remains were transported to the site by, say, carnivores, he says.
Suggestions by other researchers that Denisovans survived in southern Siberia until perhaps 30,000 years ago could not be verified in the new studies.
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