In DepthHUMAN EVOLUTION

Ancient jaw gives elusive Denisovans a face

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Science  03 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6439, pp. 418-419
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6439.418

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Summary

Thirty-nine years ago, a Buddhist monk meditating in a cave on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau found something strange: a human jawbone with giant molars. Now, almost 4 decades later, a groundbreaking new way to identify human fossils based on ancient proteins shows the jaw belonged to a Denisovan, a mysterious extinct cousin of Neanderthals. The jawbone is the first known fossil of a Denisovan outside of Siberia's Denisova Cave in Russia and gives paleoanthropologists their first real look at the face of this lost member of the human family. Together, the jaw's anatomy and the new method of analyzing ancient proteins could help researchers learn whether other mysterious fossils in Asia are Denisovans.