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A Denisovan jaw bone is discovered; ancient human relative skeleton becomes more complete

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Darcy Shapiro

Evolutionary Anthropology

Rutgers University

The paleoanthropology of Asia got even more interesting this week when researchers published the first fossil from a Denisovan found outside of Denisova Cave in Siberia. Discovered in Baishiya Karst Cave (Xiahe, China) in 1980, the fossil - half of a lower jaw with two teeth - provides some of the first morphological data on the Denisovans (which are only known from very fragmentary fossils and DNA) and expands their geographical range onto the Tibetan Plateau. 

This is really interesting because some modern populations in the area have genetic adaptations to high altitude that came from interbreeding with Denisovans, but no fossils of this enigmatic hominin had been found in the area before. The specimen has been dated to at least 160,000 years old and preserved ancient proteins (but no ancient DNA) that allowed it to be linked to the Denisovans. With at least three other papers on hominin material from Asia published within the last month, we're beginning to build a more complete picture of our own evolutionary history on that continent, which is incredibly exciting.