A molar fossil found in Siberia contains the DNA of Denisovans, a species of extinct hominid that were our unsuccessful cousins.
When the tooth and bone were analyzed in 2010 and confirmed to contain the DNA of a previously-undiscovered hominid species, that species was named after the cave, which had, in turn, been named after some dude named Denis, who was said to have lived in the cave. That's how you get an entire species named after you, everyone — live in a cave.
This new tooth indicates that the Denisovans lived about 60,000 years earlier than scientists previously estimated, linking them up with humans and Neanderthals for thousands of years. Neanderthals are one of the most well-known hominid species, closely related to modern Homo sapiens. The researchers describe Denisovans as "a sister group of Neanderthals." According to the report, the DNA is comparable to that of six Neanderthal samples, but is less similar to present-day humans.
According to National Geographic, there may be other Denisovan fossils throughout Asia, but they are likely mislabeled as Homo erectus, a relative of modern humans. Currently, we do not know whether Homo erectus is a human ancestor or merely a relative; however, erectus is the earliest-known hominid to stand upright.
Because two of the extant fossils of the Denisovans are molars, scientists were able to use DNA sequencing and dating methods to determine how long the species was here on Earth, and how long ago. Both samples came from males of the species, yet another example of history being dominated by men. Female Denisovans were probably off somewhere convincing their employer to pay them as many berries as their lazy male coworkers.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.