Scientists have recovered the DNA code of a human relative recently discovered in Siberia, and it delivered a surprise: This relative roamed far from the cave that holds its only known remains.
By comparing the DNA to that of modern populations, scientists found evidence that these “Denisovans” from more than 30,000 years ago ranged all across Asia. They apparently interbred with the ancestors of people now living in Melanesia, a group of islands northeast of Australia.
There’s no sign that Denisovans mingled with the ancestors of people now living in Eurasia, which made the connection between Siberia and distant Melanesia quite a shock.
It’s the second report in recent months of using a new tool, genomes of ancient human relatives, to illuminate the evolutionary history of humankind. In May, some of the same scientists reported using the Neanderthal genome to show that Neanderthals interbred with ancestors of today’s non-African populations. That might have happened in the Middle East after the ancestors left Africa but before they entered Eurasia, researchers said.
As for the Denisovans, the new work is probably just the start of what can be learned from their genome, said one expert familiar with the research. Eventually, it should provide clues to traits like eye and skin color, said Todd Disotell of New York University.
“We’re going to be able to piece these people together in the next few years from this genome,” he said.