In 2010, a single fossil was discovered in Denisova Cave in Russia, near Kazakhstan. This finger bone was identified to belong to a prehistoric human species closely related to Neanderthals. Because of the location of the first discovery, they are called the Denisovans. Since then, additional discoveries which have been found in Eastern Russia and China, as well as the examination of old discoveries, prove that the Denisovans lived in a wide range of climates and in close proximity to, if not with, Neanderthals. Modern human remains have also been found in these locations. It is possible that these group occupied the caves at different times and never together, and it’s nearly impossible for scientists today to determine that for sure.
Scientists have been able to extract DNA from these fossils to find genetic similarities between Denisovans and modern humans, and based on this it is known that they also existed at the same time as Homo sapiens. Native Australians and New Guineans share a higher percentage of genetic similarity with the Denisovans than other peoples, meaning that the Denisovans and Homo sapiens lived together in Asia and their offspring, who became modern humans, were the ones to make the journey to Australia.
In 2012, the fossil remains of a girl, named affectionately “Denny”, were found in Denisova Cave. Through genetic testing, it was conclusively proved that she was a first generation hybrid between Denisovans and Neanderthals. In other words, her father was fully Denisovan and her mother was fully Neanderthal. Not only is she the first to show that there was interbreeding between these two species, but she is also the first hybrid discovered between any two species of humans.
Denny is one more piece of evidence to support the argument that human evolution was not a linear process. Rather than one species of hominin evolving through adaptation, with the others going extinct and dropping away, it is believed that many, if not most, of the species of ancient humans we know of interacted and hybridized. It this theory is true, and discoveries like Denny definitely point in that direction, then modern Homo sapiens is a result of many species merging into one.
Additionally, by comparing Denny to modern humans, it might be possible for scientists to determine the rate of mutation and adaption involved with this type of hybridization and so determine how quickly humans became Homo sapiens, as we know them today.
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