Denisovans reached what’s now called “the roof of the world” at least 160,000 years ago.
Found in a Tibetan Plateau cave, a partial lower jawbone represents a Denisovan who is the oldest known hominid to reach the region’s cloud-scraping heights, researchers report online May 1 in Nature.
The fossil suggests that these perplexing, extinct members of the human lineage weathered the plateau’s frigid, thin air long before humans did. Many researchers have assumed that, as far as hominids go, only Homo sapiens settled in that high-altitude, low-oxygen environment, probably no earlier than 40,000 years ago.
“It blows my mind that Denisovans lived on the Tibetan Plateau,” paleoanthropologist and study coauthor Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said at an April 29 news conference.
Until now, Denisovans were known only from a handful of fossils unearthed in Siberia’s Denisova Cave, and from ancient DNA extracted from one of those bones. Researchers regard Denisovans, who inhabited Denisova Cave from around 300,000 to 50,000 years ago, as close relatives of Neandertals and possibly a distinct Homo species. [Continue reading…]