The Denisova cave in Siberia served as home to the Neanderthals and the Denisovans for thousands of years. Questions, however, remain when these two extinct human relatives occupied the site.
Occupants Of Denisova Cave
In two new studies published in the journal Nature, researchers investigated who lived in the cave and when, and identified an era when the Neanderthals and the Denisovans possibly mingled together.
The research provided an updated timeline for the occupation of the Denisova cave by the two species, suggesting the Denisovans lived in the cave for a longer period than the Neanderthals.
In the first study, Zenobia Jacob, from the University of Wollongong, in New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues found evidence suggesting the Denisovans ventured into the cave as early as 287, 000 years ago and continued to live there until around 55,000 years ago.
The Neanderthals arrived at the site around 193,000 years ago and continued to live there until around 97,000 years ago.
There is an overlap of 96,000 years suggesting the two species possibly shared the space for thousands of year.
Interbreeding Between The Denisovans And Neanderthals
The Denisovans and the Neanderthals may not have shared the space concurrently but recent evidence suggests they did.
Last year, researchers found genetic evidence of a hybrid of the two species dubbed Denisova II. The female juvenile, who had a Denisovan father and a Neanderthal mother, lived in the cave 90,000 years ago.
This evidence strengthened the idea that the Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred regularly. The new research suggests this interbreeding occurred at or near Denisova.
The second study, which dated the Neanderthal fossils and Denisovan fossils at the cave found the Denisovans were present at the site as early as 195, 000 years ago. The Neanderthal fossils and Denisova 11 were dated between 80,000 and 140,000 years ago.
"Determining the age of these fossils is important if we are to understand the nature of hominin interaction, and aspects of their cultural and subsistence adaptations," the researchers wrote in their study.