Denisovans, Another “Grandparent”

In previous articles we have discussed our connection to Neanderthals and how their public image, little by little, is improving. If you follow the news you will have heard a lot recently about a new member of our human family. Today we are going to introduce you to that new ancestor of ours, the Denisovans.

Denisovan Cave Entrance Siberia
Denisova Cave, Siberia

In a remote part of Siberia, the Denisova Cave, in the Altai mountains, remains of human habitation going back thousands of years was discovered. Since the initial discovery, research has continued right up to present day. The first amazing discovery that the cave yielded was the finger bone of a child, later determined to probably be female, her mtDNA was distinctly different from modern man and Neanderthal, however it also revealed that a common ancient ancestor was shared with Neanderthal.

More recent finds revealed not only interbreeding between Neanderthal and Denisovans, but also included an unknown human ancestor as well. Based on finds, it appears that the cave has provided shelter to hominins for more than 250,000 years, including the 18th century Russian hermit, known as Denis, whose use of the cave rendered his being the namesake. The cave appears to have been used by Neanderthals and Denisovans separately, as well as, co-habitation between them over the course of time as well.

Denisovan Cave Siberia
via Nature (IAET SB RAS)  

Right now it is the belief that Denisovans died out before Neanderthal, however, our knowledge of the species is very minimal at present. Originally, we thought that they were limited in habitation to Asia and the Pacific, even some indigenous peoples have up to 6% Denisovan DNA left in their genes. But, recently, the DNA profile of 400,000YO remains in Spain showed greater connection to Denisovans than Neanderthals, surprising researchers who expected connections to Neanderthal but not Denisovans. These remains are being used to speculate that Denisovans and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor from which both species descend from on their own separate evolutionary paths. Of course, much more evidence and research would have to be conducted before any theory could be considered more than speculation.

Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons 

One of the more unique inheritances that modern humans have received from our Denisovan ancestors is found among the peoples of the Himalayas. It is a gene that allows them to live normally at the very high altitudes with the thin, low-oxygen air. This knowledge will hopefully led to more field work looking for more dwelling places and remains in higher elevations. Another feature of our Denisovan ancestors that while might seem unique, is not quite as unique as textbook human evolution would have us believe. We did not start out as little 3ft monkey-less apes and steadily and slowly evolve into our 6ft selves. We are not the tallest we have ever been, all our ancestors were not shorter than us. And Denisovans, along with homo heiledbergensis, were taller than at least their Neanderthal counterparts, with Denisovans being probably as robust as their Neanderthal cousins. While some homo heiledbergensis were at least 6ft tall, there are some opinions that Denisovans may have easily been over 6ft. Again, there needs to be more finds made and researched before true theories can be successfully floated in the evolutionary sea.

These recent finds, should remind us all that we truly do know very little about our story and that it is not a simple tale that can be wrapped up in a nice neat pretty little liner package. All one should need to do to know that the story of humanity is more like a web or bush than a one way flowchart is look around at school, at the office, at the market, at the cafe as see all the diversity before your own eyes. Just think of how many unknown stories are before you eyes everyday and then ask how can we think that we have any real idea about all those stories from our whole history!

Stepping Into The Pacific

South Pacific Google Maps
Google Maps Screenshot

Over recent years there have been a number of extraordinary discoveries across the islands of the Pacific with regards to hominoid history. And even with the peer-reviewed and rigorous work carried out by respected scholars for a number of universities and organizations the “dogma” about human evolution and diffusion remains virtually unchanged in the textbooks and lecture halls. And this specific ignoring of evidentiary objections to the dogma seems all but certain to eventually either burst forth with a dramatic rewrite of history or to add more fuel to the bonfire that is the huge collection of anomalous discoveries creating a light that outshines the dim glow of the lecture hall dogma.

Just what are some of these discoveries?

Flores-hobbit 2016 Science
Reconstruction of Homo floresiensis
by Atelier Elisabeth Daynes

Probably one of the better known of these anomalous discoveries is that of ‘the hobbit’ or homo floesiensis in 2004 on Flores. Research indicates that this hominid lived on the island within the last 20,000 years, long after we are told that we were the only surviving homo species, and had probably been inhabiting the island for approximately 700,000 years. This later date is based on recent discoveries of teeth and a jawbone found in 2016 on the island. Also in geographic relation, in 2016 tools were found on Sulawesi, an island north of Flores, whose dating suggests unknown hominid existence on that island at least 118,000 years ago.

While most scholars accept that homo erectus populated at least some of the islands up to 840,000YAG based on discovered tools and that modern man has been found inhabiting the Pacific Islands for at least the last 40,000 to 45,000 years, it is still more considered to be exceptions and not the norm for human migration.

Further south, the aboriginal people of Australia are considered by most to have arrived no earlier than ~30,000YAG, however, some research has suggested evidence might suggest 60,000 to 80,000YAG. Either way, it appears, based on the research, that the aborigines were the original populators of the continent. While it seems that aboriginals themselves do not give a ‘time value’ to their history, most of us can agree that even 30,000 years would be a fair “forever” to have existed in a location.

Aboriginal Austrailians
Aboriginal corroboree ceremony.
Courtesy of the Australian News and Information Bureau, New York

Most of the other islands are conventionally thought to have been much more recently settled by people, regardless of what the oral histories of the locals themselves may or may not claim. Mostly, this thought that most habitation of ‘new locations’ in the Pacific occurred in the last 3,000 to 5,000 years, is based on one staggeringly arrogant presumption….that, seafaring was impossible prior to that. A weakly founded assumption that still holds much sway even though some individual researchers have proven that simple boats and competent navigational knowledge would allow for the movement of man over vast distances, both of which have been knowingly possessed by the primitive islanders since their discovery by European explorers.

Artist John Webber

Many scholars suggest that the only way for prehistoric man to have gotten off of the collective landmass of Africa-Asia-Europe is to have been swept across the seas on storm debris. Really? And if presented with the concept of well how did they survive (reproduce) in the new location, the response is that a small group (obviously mixed gender and ages) was carried together on the storm debris. That is quite the perfect storm. Actually, that would be quite a few of these perfect storms. Another more plausible, but still problematic in its own right, theory is the use of land bridges and or shallow shoals during glacial maximums when ocean levels were much lower than today.

In order to have a storm with the strength to literally move people, you are usually looking at a storm that kills people, not one that simply floats them across the sea. And while land bridges can provide the means for man to venture into unknown and new territory, there is a time limit on the access, which creates issues for any human activity that deviates from said time windows. While it is important to make sure that research is solid and can stand up to scrutiny, it should be noted that there is no amount of evidence that can stand up to close-minded arrogant dogma and it is a disservice to research, history and mankind to allow such dogma unfettered reign over the study and understanding of the human story.