A recent study showcased a fairly new archaeological technique of gathering ancient Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA from mud in caves. With this new technique in hand, is it possible to finally put the pieces of human ancestry together?
Alternative DNA Detection
An alternative method of DNA detection even without body fragments can lead to possibly promising new heights in archaeology. With mitochondrial DNA from modern humans acting as hooks for hominid DNA, the researchers were able to gather Neanderthal DNA fragments from four sites, and Denisovan DNA fragments from a cave in Russia.
The study was published on April 27 in the journal Science, and could be a staple DNA extraction method in archaeological sites. While there are still questions regarding the purity and actual source of the DNA fragments found in cave dirt, still, there is the possibility that this technique could shed some light into the mysteries surrounding human ancestry.
The Mystery Of Neanderthals And Denisovans
For a long time, Neanderthals were the more known hominid species that is most closely related to humans. That is, until 2008 when a team of paleoanthropologists found a finely preserved fossilized 40,000-year-old pinkie bone in Siberia.
Upon thorough examination, the DNA in the pinkie revealed that its owner was very closely related to Neanderthals, but was distinct enough to be classified into its own category — the Denisovan, named after the cave where the bone was found.
The revelation bred more questions about the history of the human race, adding to the main mystery of just exactly how the Neanderthals disappeared just as modern humans appeared.
Surprisingly, scientists also found a genetic overlap between Denisovan and modern human DNA, particularly among east Asians and Pacific Islanders from Papua New Guinea.
Did Neanderthals And Denisovans Really Die Out?
Scientists believe that Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans were all descended from a common ancestor, the Homo heidelbergensis, and that a group of these ancient humans left Africa and went their separate ways shortly after. The ones who went northwestward into Europe and West Asia became the Neanderthals, and the rest, the Denisovans. The remaining Homo heidelbergensis eventually became the homo sapiens, our ancestors.
The theory could possibly explain how the three groups scattered their way to populate the planet, but there is the question of how the homo sapiens survived, while the other groups eventually died out.
Though there is the theory that modern humans may have killed off Neanderthals, some scientists suggest that perhaps, instead of killing them, the reason that Neanderthals and Denisovans died out is that they mated with them, thus easing in their adaptations to different environments.
Naturally, these are all just theories as to how the Earth's population became how it is today.
Perhaps the new method of gathering DNA from cave dirt may still have its shortcomings, but the alternative method could possibly find new information that fossils cannot find, which would shed light into what really happened to our ancestors and cousins.