“Offspring!” –Evidence Discovered of Two Species of Ancient Humans “That Separated From Each Other More Than 390,000 Years Ago”

The new finding “is sensational” says Johannes Krause, who studies ancient DNA at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. “Now we have the love child of two different hominin groups, found where members of both groups have been found. It’s quite a lot of things happening in one cave through time.”

The woman may have been just a teenager when she died more than 50,000 years ago, too young to have left much of a mark on her world. But a piece of one of her bones, unearthed in a cave in Russia’s Denisova valley in 2012, may make her famous. Enough ancient DNA lingered within the 2-centimeter fragment to reveal her startling ancestry: She was the direct offspring of two different species of ancient humans, Neanderthal and the mysterious Denisovan— extinct groups of hominins that separated from each other more than 390,000 years ago.

An analysis of the woman’s genome, continues Gretchen Vogel in Science, indicates her mother was Neanderthal and her father was Denisovan, the mysterious group of ancient humans discovered in the same Siberian cave in 2011. It is the most direct evidence yet that various ancient humans mated with each other and had offspring.
This bone fragment harbors the most direct evidence yet of ancient interspecies mating. Thomas Higham, University of Oxford
Based on other ancient genomes, researchers already had concluded that Denisovans, Neanderthals, and modern humans interbred in ice age Europe and Asia. The genes of both archaic human species are present in many people today. Other fossils found in the Siberian cave have shown that all three species lived there at different times.
Viviane Slon, a paleogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who did the ancient DNA analysis, says when she saw the results, her first reaction was disbelief. Only after repeating the experiment several times were she and her Leipzig colleagues—Svante Pääbo, Fabrizio Mafessoni, and Benjamin Vernot—convinced.
That a direct offspring of the two ancient humans was found among the first few fossil genomes recovered from the cave suggests, Pääbo says, “that when these groups met, they actually mixed quite freely with each other.”
The Daily Galaxy via Science

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