Neanderthals and Denisovans are our closest and most recent cousins. However recent excavations in a Siberian cave, confirm that these two groups of people also interbred and created offspring. Bone fragments probably from a young teenager were discovered showing that Neanderthals and Denisovans produced a hybrid-lineages.
Archaeological excavations have already revealed that Neanderthals coexisted in Eurasia with the Denisova. Remains of Neanderthals have been found in the Denisova cave in the Atlas mountains. This discovery of Neanderthal teeth and bones started to raise questions about the interaction of these two groups.
A team of anthropologists analysed the minuscule fragments of the bone which proves that Neanderthals and Denisova mated and produced offspring between 400, 000 and 500, 000 years ago. “It is the first time that we have found a direct descendant from these two groups,” explained Viviane Slon from the Max-Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, co-author of the study published recently in Nature.
The bone fragment, measuring 2.5 cm long and called Denisova 11, was discovered in 2012 in the Denisova cave. After having analysed the extracted proteins, the researchers concluded that this tiny bone belonged to a teenage girl of at least 13 years old. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the young girl was alive a little more than 50, 000 years ago. Scientists created a sample of the crushed fragments and sequenced the DNA of the bone dust. The findings revealed that the Densovian father of the young girl had a least one Neanderthal ancestor, probably as far back as 300 or 600 generations before his birth.
The scientists also discovered that the adolescents mother had more genetic similarities to Western European Neanderthals. This discovery suggests that the Neanderthals migrated between west and east Eurasia for tens of thousands of years.
Only six people found in the cave have been analysed. One girl out of the six studied presented genetic evidence of interbreeding between the two groups of people. This suggests – from a statistical point of view – that miscegenation may have been common whenever these groups interacted. “They must have mated frequently, much more than we believed before,” says Svante Pääbo, co-author of the study. ” as otherwise we would not have been so lucky. ”