Libmonster ID: KZ-1546

The famous Denisova peshchera (cave), one of the oldest habitation sites of North Asia, is situated in the northwest of Mountain Altai, in the Annui River Valley. Samples of plant pollen and seed as well as mollusk shells and bone remains of animals and birds gathered there over the last 20 years by Siberian archeologists enable scientists to see what the natural environment and climate were like in the dim and distant past. Many of the artifacts (stone and bone tools, decorative objects) invite the conclusion that the transition from the Middle to the Upper (High) Paleolithic* occurred earlier there than in other regions. These are comprehensive studies, with many experts taking part side by side with archeologists (geologists, petrographers, pale-obotanists, paleozoologists, anthropologists, paleoge-neticists).

Speaking at a news conference in Novosibirsk last December, Dr. Mikhail Shunkov, a historian and deputy chief the Archeology and Ethnography Institute (RAS Siberian Branch), told journalists about the results of work done in the prehistoric cave. A report about that news conference was carried in the paper Nauka v Sibiri ("Science in Siberia").

-- Two years ago, archeologists recovered a finger phalanx belonging to prehistoric man. This find was retrieved from the 11th habitation level of the cave corresponding to the beginning of the early Stone Age. This was really a windfall, for we know but of a few instances of human bone remains old like that found in our country.

This material was sent to the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany) for genetic analysis, where mitochondrial DNA was isolated from the bone fragments. Its decoding gave surprising results: this mtDNA differed from the DNA of Neanderthal man of the early Stone Age and even from that of Homo sapiens, or modern man. Published by the Nature mag-

* Paleolithic-of or related to the earliest part of the Stone Age. P. is the earliest known stage in the development of modern civilization, characterized by the use of stone tools and weapons. It took in a period from the origins of Homo (man) over 2 mln years ago to about the 10th millennium B.C. The Old Stone Age was followed by the New Stone Age, or Neolithic, about 4000 B.C.--Ed.

azine, this information made a stir in the world scientific community. But since the data came from mtDNA transferred in the maternal line, one had to isolate nuclear DNA as well.

Our diggers are proud of yet another find-a tooth!-recovered in the selfsame cave. It is a relict thing, too. Did it belong to man? Experts were in doubt for quite some time. Anthropologists and paleogeneticists are going to take a close look and give their verdict. As to the finger phalanx-it proved to be of the little finger after all!--it belonged to a teenage girl, as shown by ungual phalanx analysis data.

A large group of American scientists from the University of California, Harvard Medical School as well as the Universities of Washington (Seattle, Washington) and British Columbia joined hands in dental studies. As shown by mtDNA isolated from the tooth, it belonged to a young man of the same prehistoric population as did the girl's little finger. True, these two individuals lived too far apart chronologically--the time interval is between 7.5 thousand and 16 thousand years. The second find (tooth) makes clear that the hitherto unknown population of hominids did live in the Altai region.

Most importantly, these data were confirmed by morphological characters, that is in addition to mtDNA assay. Mammalian teeth, as it turns out, may indicate the genus and species of their owners. The tooth detected in the cave is far older than the teeth of the present Homo sapiens species and Neanderthals. Yet they are smaller and not as old as those of the Homo habilis or Homo erectus species. Thus, morphological studies confirm genetic analysis data, namely that the Altai population stands in between Homo erectus, who migrated from Africa and Eurasia, and the pristine inhabitants of Eurasia, Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. And yet another essential point: nuclear DNA data show the Denisov cave man represents a really new population different from Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

The nDNA data supplied new information on this puzzling hominid dubbed Denisovets. A thousand nucleotide pairs were studied, and genetic sequences

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obtained. The resultant genome was compared with 54 genomes of present-day humans all over the globe. The Altain Homo happened to depart from the mainstream and followed the pathway of dead-end evolution. Neanderthals were his closest relatives. Judging by the nuclear DNA, the common stem was toward man of the present physical look. But then this stem branched out according to race characters to produce present humanity in all its diversity. About 800 thousand years ago or so this stem produced a branch which, in its turn, broke into another two around 200 thousand years ago: one for the Neanderthal, and the other, for the Denisovets Homo. These two evolutionary paths were dead-end. We cannot tell yet why both hominids vanished. Apparently the struggle for life did not end in their favor.

What we call a gene drift took place in the Neanderthal's genome upon the separation from the common branch: the Neanderthals mated with Homo sapiens, and in consequence as much as 4 percent of Neanderthalian genes occur in the present population of Eurasia. But the Denisovets genes are no there. The only extant population to have from 4 to 6 percent of the Denisovets genome is represented by the Melanesians, or "Black Islanders", living on the islands northeast of Australia. Even though they inhabit the same region as Micronesians and Polynesians, they differ greatly from these two ethnic groups. But this does not mean that the Denisovets could have migrated to Southeast Asia, and thence to the isles between Australia and Asia. And yet Melanesian ancestors must have had some contacts with the Denisovets. Now the main result obtained by the mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, and morphological studies: there was a primitive people unknown to science before populating Asia's eastern part.

Hence the following conclusion: three archaic hominid species lived in Eurasia. First, the progressive one, Homo sapiens, that has evolved into present-day man, and then, the two extinct--the Neanderthal, indigenous to western and eastern Europe, western Asia and the Near East, and last, Denisovets, the autochthon of eastern Asia from the Caspian in the west to the Pacific in the east, and along the Tibet-Himalayan mountain land in the south, a natural barrier insurmountable to man. There is a well-grounded hypothesis that mankind migrated from Africa to the East in two ways, the northern and the southern, circumventing the mountains. Thus, new bits of evidence have been added to the pristine stretch of this country's history.

We cannot but call attention to a thrilling archeological intrigue. As a Kulturtraeger, the Denisovets man was more advanced than the Neanderthal. Both lived in the Altai area concurrently, which is a proven fact. Bone

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fragments of the hominid have been found near the village of Sibiryachikha, namely in the Okladnikov cave 100 kilometers away from the Denisov cave. Their DNA assay at the Max Planck Institute shows they belonged to the Neanderthal man. Similar bone remains were detected in 2010 in the Chagyrskaya cave located 150 km from the Denisov one.

Stone tools, arrow-heads and scrapers found in the Okladnikov and Chagyrskaya caves are of the explicitly West European, or Mousterian look. Mousterian is a classical stone industry linked directly to the Neanderthals. Archeologically, the material culture relicts of the Denisov cave respond to the culture of man having present-day physical characters and behavioral habits that came into play at a rather early date (one of the world's best radiocarbon analysis laboratories at Oxford, England, has obtained a series of datings indicating that Denisovets lived 50 thousand years ago or so). European scientists took the finds of Siberian archeologists with a grain of salt at first. But following symposiums held in Altai, foreign researchers changed their mind as they could see the relicts at first hand. Another forum is in the books for the summer of 2011, where the world's best-known archeologists, anthropologists and paleoge-neticists have been invited.

Now, found in the 11th habitation level of the Denisov cave were both stone tools and bone items, in particular, miniature 2-inch stone needles with eyes drilled in. Also found were social-status articles like various decorative objects. That is to say, apart from their esthetic value, they were important as social stratification symbols. These things attest to man's spiritual and intellectual evolution and his involved social organization within the

Denisov cave 50,000 years ago. Two pieces of a bangle made of chloritolite, a rare precious stone changing its color in different illumination, must have been brought from the Altai ore mining area. Distances of 200 kilometers posed no problems for a give-and-take in the Stone Age: recovered from the same habitation levels were beads made of ostrich egg-shells found likewise in Mongolia and east of Lake Baikal.

The Denisov cave finds are of the world's oldest. A detailed study of the bangle reveal the use of various industrial technologies like tool drilling, boring, grinding and polishing (techniques widely used in the New Stone Age, the Neolithic, though some had appeared earlier, at the end of the Old Stone Age). This happened as early as 50 thousand years ago, though it was commonly believed such skills were born only 15 to 20 thousand years ago. All this has changed significantly our ideas about the technical and cultural level of primitive man.

Let's hope the Denisov cave will spring many other surprises on us.

V. Mikhailova, "Denisovets", Man of the Paleolithic Who Has Left No Progeny, "Nauka v Sibiri", No. 5, 2011


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"DENISOVETS", THE STONE AGE MAN // Astana: Digital Library of Kazakhstan (BIBLIO.KZ). Updated: 21.09.2021. URL: (date of access: 01.03.2024).

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Қазақстан Желіде
Астана, Kazakhstan
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21.09.2021 (892 days ago)
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