Our Emerging Ancestors — The Denisovans

New Discoveries Reveal Details About Early Humans

Mike Luoma
The Startup
Published in
9 min readOct 22, 2019

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Who are the Denisovans? A branch of humankind contemporary with our early Modern Human ancestors and the Neanderthals has gone from unknown to new sensation, with scientific and archaeological discoveries in the headlines each week.

Breakthroughs in applied genetics and other new technologies are giving archaeologists futuristic tools for examining our distant past. They’re using them to learn as much as they can about these newly discovered ancient humans — and about ourselves — as we have discovered traces of Denisovan DNA within our own Modern Human genome. As we’ve also discovered with Neanderthals, Denisovans significantly interbred with Ancient Modern Humans, and their genetic signs can be seen in different populations living today.

The Denisovans’ story begins in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. In the funky way things get named, these newly discovered ancient humans are identified by the mountain cave their remains were discovered in, Denisova Cave, called that thanks to one of the cave’s final residents a couple hundred years ago, a hermit named Denis[i]. They’re “Denisovans” simply because they were found in Denis’ old place in 2010. Which was really their old place some 200,000 or so years earlier.

An artists portrait of the reconstruction of a juvenile female Denisovan. Credit: Maayan Harel, Cell.

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Mike Luoma
The Startup

Author, Podcaster, Radio Host & Music Director, Explorer, Researcher, Science Fiction & Comic Book Creator. From Vermont.