Jawbone fossil sheds light on ancient Denisovan race
Jaw fossil discovered in Tibetan plateau tells us more about the mysterious Denisovans.
XIAHE, CHINA — The discovery of a jawbone in the Tibetan plateau reveals new details about a mysterious race of ancient humans.
According to a study published in Nature, a jaw fossil with two unusually large teeth was found in Baishya Karst Cave in Xiahe, China by a local monk in 1980.
Recent analysis of proteins extracted from one of the molars indicates that the fossil is 160,000 years old, and belongs to a hominin population known as the Denisovans.
This race of humans were first discovered in 2010 by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology via a finger bone from Russia's Denisova Cave.
The New York Times reports that based on their DNA, the Denisovans shared a common ancestor with the Neanderthals some 400,000 years ago, later interbreeding with them and with modern humans. Traces of their DNA are found in present-day Asians, Australians, and Melanesians.
The fossil discovery suggests Denisovans had adapted to living in the low oxygen, high-altitude environment of the Tibetan plateau, which sits at an elevation of 10,760 feet.
According to the Institute of Tibetan research, this genetic adaptation was likely passed on to modern Himlayan populations, who were found to have a Denisovan gene that allows them to cope with thin air.
According to the New York Times, the jawbone is the first Denisovan fossil found outside Denisova Cave, and supports the theory that the species once lived across central and east Asia.
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