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The femur bone that caused a ripple

11 October 2014

In Current World Archaeology 67 (Oct., 2014) – or go to www.world-archaeology.com … there is an article by Tom Higham on Denisova Cave which famously produced the finger bone from which a genome was produced of an entirely new human species. It is located in the remote Altai Mountains at the far side of central Asia. Clearly, it could not have been so remote in the past as it has produced remains of Homo erectus, Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Modern Humans.

The Palaeo Chron Project is based at Oxford University and the idea is to make sense of changes in the Middle to Late Palaeolithic periods, especially at the the point where modern humans replace their forebears. It is assumed they came from Out of Africa rather than evolving in situ, so to speak, a major plank of the consensus model of the past. There is a nice picture of the carefully marked out layers of stratigraphy found inside one of the caves – that of the Denisovan finger bone. We get a good idea of how the finds are classified. Various other sites in the Altai have provided evidence including another cave with a Neanderthal leg bone. There is apparently a genetic link between Denisovans and modern Tibetans that involves a gene that allows adaption to altitude. It is thought this was inherited from Homo erectus.  Either that or there is little to choose between Homo erectus and its two offshoots, Denisova and Neanderthal. 

However, a femur bone was also found in western Siberia, in bank material of the river Irtysh. It was sent to a laboratory in Leipzig for DNA analysis and radio carbon dating. It came out as 46,000 years of age (which is another story for another day). It is easily the oldest modern human bone bone in Euroasia – but it was not entirely modern (which is the rub). It possessed large chunks of Neanderthal DNA – almost to the point you have to wonder if it was Neanderthal rather than Modern. It is now being suggested, from the evidence of this single femur bone, that admixture between Moderns and Neanderthals occurred around 55,000 to 60,000 years ago – which ties in with recent claims on Out of Africa. Is there an agenda behind the research – or the results of that research. Are they stitching up some of the old ideas and if so, why?

See also www.eva.mpg.de/denisova

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