Scientists have discovered the oldest remains of a close relative to the modern human.
Dated at 200,000 years old, the bones are the oldest known remains of the Denisovans, “a sister population to the Neanderthals,” according to a study published Thursday in the monthly peer-reviewed journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
“This is the first time we have the physical remains of Denisovans that we can securely date to 200,000 years ago,” Samantha Brown, a co-author of the study, said in an email to USA TODAY. “From here we can investigate their technology and behaviors and hopefully start to understand this population a little better.”
Denisovans are a relatively new group to the scientific community, identified only within the last decade. Just six remains of the group have been found worldwide. One was discovered in China, and five were found in the Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia.
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It’s from that Siberian cave that scientists recovered and later analyzed nearly 3,800 bone fragments which would reveal three Denisovan fossils dated to be 200,000 years old. The efforts, funded by the European Research Council and the Russian Academy of Sciences, began in 2017.
Prior to this discovery, the oldest Denisovan remains were estimated to date between 122,000 to 194,000 years old.
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There were other exciting finds in the cave too. Scientists found stone tools and artifacts, the first to be discovered with Denisovan remains.
“Denisovans are one of our most recent ancestors, and many people today still carry a small percentage of Denisovan DNA,” Brown, a researcher at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said. “How similar or different they were to modern humans is still difficult to know because we have very little information about them.”