On May 1, an international team of scientists published their findings on a fossil discovery made all the way back in 1980 in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The discovery in question, a jawbone and two teeth from a species of archaic human known as Denisovan, was made by a Buddhist monk when he entered a cave to pray.
According to the New York Times, the Denisovans are part of a Neanderthal-like human lineage that went extinct roughly 50,000 years ago. Remains of our long-gone cousins were first discovered in 2010 when DNA from a bone fragment found in the Denisova Cave in Siberia was sequenced.
Denisovan Cave in Siberia. Image via Wikimedia
New Scientist reports that genetic analysis has found that many people in China and Southeast Asia carry a bit of Denisovan DNA, revealing that our ancestors once lived and interbred with the Denisovans.
Radioisotope dating, a technique used to date fossils using radioactive materials within the specimen, has dated the jawbone at over 160,000 years old. This date suggests that Denisovans had reached the Tibetan plateau tens of thousands of years before our own species, homo sapiens.
The Denisovans are also known to have passed along their genetic legacy to modern day Tibetans, helping them cope with low oxygen levels at high altitudes, according to a research paper on the introgression of Denisovan DNA. Known as the ‘Roof of the World,’ Tibet has an average elevation of over 4,000 meters, making this genetic gift from the Denisovans a real godsend.
Now that the Tibetan jaw is known to belong to a Denisovan, researchers will now be able to compare the bone with other fossil discoveries from the past in hopes of further understanding this ancient relative of homo sapiens.
READ MORE: 'Archaic Human' Fossils Discovered in China
[Cover image via Sohu]