THE TRADITIONAL VIEW
The prevalent view of human evolution states that after leaving Africa and colonising the rest of the world, members of the homo sapiens species split into the stooped Neanderthals and our bright ancestors.
It is thought that the latter used their superior intellect to out-compete the Neanderthals and drive them into extinction.
But the conflict between Neanderthals and our ancestors is speculative, based on the premise that the Neanderthals died out within 10,000 years of co-existing with modern humans.
THE DENISOVAN TWIST
A new family tree
There is, in fact, another possible explanation for the disappearance of Neanderthals and the fact that around 2.5% of a non-African modern human’s DNA comes from Neanderthal ancestors – that they interbred with our ancestors until their genetic diversity was lost. The ‘branch’ of humanity may be a myth – new evidence suggests that it might have warped, split and re-joined to reach where it is today.
As you will have gathered from our previous post, you’re probably part Neanderthal. Odds are if you take a look around at the people around you, this won’t surprise you much. But new research suggests that humanity did not just split into early man and Neanderthal: The Neanderthals share a common ancestor with another, more mysterious type of homo sapien – the Denisovan.
Some modern humans, chiefly the Australian Aborigines, have 5% of their DNA in common with the Denisovan, in addition to their Neanderthal heritage. Early humanity’s relationships were as salacious as those in any of today’s gossip rags.
SIBERIA HOLDS THE SECRET
The Denisovan bones were found in a Siberian cave.
While it’s impossible to know whether the Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred as ancestral humans and Neanderthals did, a startling discovery in a Siberian cave in 2008 reveals the extent to which the three subspecies interacted.
An archaeologist digging in a deposit dated between 30,000 to 50,000 years old discovered a fragment of bone. Since the deposit had previously revealed both ancestral man and Neanderthal remains, it was sent for analysis.
What it returned was proof not only of the Denisovan subspecies, but evidence that the three subspecies all used the cave with some degree of overlap. They had co-existed.
Your family tree might just have become a lot more complicated.