A tale of a finger bone and a tooth

24 Dec 2010

This story has been on BBC News and you can read about it at a variety of blogs, including www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101222131119.htm which is a report on a paper in the December 23rd issue of Nature about the fingerbone of a young girl found in a cave in southern Siberia and dated 30,000 years ago. She was neither a modern human or a Neanderthal but belonged, it is said, to a previously unknown human species - possibly hybrid. All this extrapolation from a single fossil finger bone and one tooth, we might wonder. However, the information is derived from the DNA which yielded a draft genome sequence - hence the startling claims. She, and they, are now termed Denisovans, after the name of the cave, Denisova. The study also found surprising evidence of Denisovan genetic links to modern Melanesians (which includes the people of New Guinea and Australian Aborigines). The Out of Africa hypothesis is now being modified, as all consensus models are when facts emerge that contradict them. Instead of a nice clean migration of pure modern humans moving out of Africa and colonising the world as older humans such as Neanderthals mysteriously disappeared, the story is becoming a trifle muddied. Some vestiges of Neanderthal genes have been found in modern humans - outside of Africa. Not in Africa - but of course, Neanderthals never inhabited Africa. The same story appears at www.dailygalaxy.com on December 23rd.