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Scientists find 200,000-year-old remains of one of modern humanity’s ‘most recent ancestors’

The 200,000-year-old remains of a close kin to modern humans have been discovered in a cave in Siberia, Russia, according to a new study published last Thursday in the Nature, Ecology & Evolution journal.

The Denisovans — “a sister population to the Neanderthals” — were identified just 10 years ago and very few physical remains have been found since, according to the abstract.

The study points to the identification of five hominin bones that were found, including four that had enough DNA for mitochondrial analysis. Three of those bones were identified as Denisovan and the fourth as a Neanderthal, according to the study’s abstract.

The Denisovan remains were found near the base of Denisova Cave and, thanks to the “wealth of archaeological material” — including stone tools and artifacts, a landmark find among Denisovan remains — discovered there. This paints a picture of “the material culture associated with these early hominins.” The finds also help to give scientists an idea of the relationships between Denisovans and Neanderthals.

“This is the first time we have the physical remains of Denisovans that we can securely date to 200,000 years ago,” study co-author Samantha Brown, a researcher at the University of Tübingen in Germany, told USA Today. “From here we can investigate their technology and behaviors and hopefully start to understand this population a little better.”

Scientists found nearly 3,800 bone fragments in their efforts, which began in 2017 with funding from the European Research Council and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Just one set of remains had been found beforehand, in China, and was estimated to be between 122,000 and 194,000 years old.

“Denisovans are one of our most recent ancestors, and many people today still carry a small percentage of Denisovan DNA,” Brown told USA Today, noting though that there is still “very little information” about the group.

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