Ancient Humans Had Sex With Mystery Species, New DNA Study Shows

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on November 22nd, 2013

The ancient genomes, one from a Neanderthal and one from a different archaic human group, the Denisovans, were presented on 18 November at a meeting at the Royal Society in London. They suggest that interbreeding went on between the members of several ancient human-like groups living in Europe and Asia more than 30,000 years ago, including an as-yet unknown human ancestor from Asia.

“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London who was at the meeting but was not involved in the work.

The first Neanderthal and the Denisovan genome sequences revolutionized the study of ancient human history, not least because they showed that these groups interbred with anatomically modern humans, contributing to the genetic diversity of many people alive today.

All humans whose ancestry originates outside of Africa owe about 2% of their genome to Neanderthals; and certain populations living in Oceania, such as Papua New Guineans and Australian Aboriginals, got about 4% of their DNA from interbreeding between their ancestors and Denisovans, who are named after the cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains where they were discovered. The cave contains remains deposited there between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Those conclusions however were based on low-quality genome sequences, riddled with errors and full of gaps, David Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts said at the meeting. His team, in collaboration with Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now produced much more complete versions of the Denisovan and Neanderthal genomes — matching the quality of contemporary human genomes. The high-quality Denisovan genome data and new Neanderthal genome both come from bones recovered from Denisova Cave.

The new Denisovan genome indicates that this enigmatic population got around: Reich said at the meeting that they interbred with Neanderthals and with the ancestors of human populations that now live in China and other parts of East Asia, in addition to Oceanic populations, as his team previously reported. Most surprisingly, Reich said, the new genomes indicate that Denisovans interbred with another extinct population of archaic humans that lived in Asia more than 30,000 years ago, which is neither human nor Neanderthal.

The meeting was abuzz with conjecture about the identity of this potentially new population of humans. “We don’t have the faintest idea,” says Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the London Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the work. He speculates that the population could be related to Homo heidelbergensis, a species that left Africa around half a million years ago and later gave rise to Neanderthals in Europe. “Perhaps it lived on in Asia as well,” Stringer says.

This story originally appeared in Huffington Post.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

8 Responses to “Ancient Humans Had Sex With Mystery Species, New DNA Study Shows”

  1. DWA responds:

    “What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London who was at the meeting but was not involved in the work.

    Right. Here’s my thesis. We don’t imagine bigfoot because we need to see the world as populated with monsters.

    We make a bunch of fantasy movies that – although we think they are fantasies – are actually mental blueprints of how the world actually is.

    Sure. You tell me a better one. Go ‘head.

    Anthropologists forty years ago, could one transport them here now to read this, might think: holy cow. THIS is what those drugs are gonna do to our heads.

  2. Cullan Hudson via Facebook responds:

    Aren’t they all of the same genus and species? Neanderthal and Denisovans are subspecies of Homo sapiens? I know the science flits back and forth on that, but I think that’s where it has landed at present.

  3. FattyFatty2by4 responds:

    Not so much a comment, but a question. Can anyone point me to a resource which explains how the passage of time is determined via genetic data? I did a quick Google search but was unable to really find what I was looking for.

  4. Ploughboy responds:

    I find nothing extraordinary about these reported findings at all. Our inability to contemplate not being at the center of the universe is the only thing that makes them seem that way to some. We need to get over ourselves.

  5. Ploughboy responds:

    FattyFatty….as I understand it, the mutation of the genome is the yardstick used to measure that. Over time, a fairly consistent number of mutations are predicted to be present. Working backwards from the present genome, and looking at the older one, the number of mutations per a certain time period yield the duration between the two samples. Obviously, this is not a very precise calculation, but is accepted as the best available.

  6. alan borky responds:

    DWA [quotin’ Mark Thomas] “we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world”.

    Lord of the Rings itself was based on ancient mythologies from all round the world describing precisely the emerging scenario.

    An’ Madame Blavatsky’s supposed tosh about the rise an’ fall of various ancient root races suddenly starts t’resemble leading edge science.

    By the way DWA your thesis looks very healthy indeed t’me an’ might I suggest the idea of the Revenant covers similiar territory namely a restless spirit’ll keep returnin’ until it’s finally acknowledged.

    FattyFatty2by4 it’s very difficult t’track down easily assimilated versions of such info even in text books but even when as in my case 2 decades ago you’re on a degree which gives access t’biology lecturers most seem reluctant t’give a straight answer probably because most of it’s guess work based on guestimatin’ various parameters such as the average age at which successful reproduction takes place then usin’ that t’guess how many generations’re likely to’ve elapsed since now an’ then and therefore how many years.

    Ploughboy I person’ly find these findings extraordinary simply because they seem to vindicate so much evidence long discarded as tosh by the likes of the Nothing Before Clovis brigade but I agree with you the heart of most of our problems do seem t’lie with our inability t’get over ourselves.

  7. Duncan Hopkins via Facebook responds:

    “Dogs and cats living together…”

  8. Goodfoot responds:

    DWA: Your idea works for me; but so do lots of others.

    Ploughboy: I like your first comment.

    Here we go. The road to a world peopled by many hominid species at the present is looking more and more wide open. Imagine what the next ten years may bring us.

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