News FocusPaleoanthropology

Who Were the Denisovans?

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Science  26 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6046, pp. 1084-1087
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6046.1084

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Several fossils belonging to a previously unknown type of archaic human were found last summer in a remote cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. The discovery team called them the Denisovans after the cave. In July, a select group of human origins researchers attended a remarkable symposium at an archaeological camp near Denisova Cave. Their goal was to try to solve the mystery of the identity of the Denisovans, to find more of them, and to explore how the discovery is challenging models of modern human origins. In lively discussions, they compared what archaeology, genetics, and fossils reveal about the world the Denisovans inhabited 30,000 to 50,000 years ago. Genomic data have already shown that our ancestors mingled with archaic humans, who may have given us valuable immune cell types (see sidebar). But it's not clear when and where this happened.