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Neanderthal woman’s walk of love some 90,000 years ago between two caves 106 km apart

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24 June 2020


Neanderthal woman’s walk of love. Picture: The Siberian Times

New research suggests that the mother of Denny, aged around 13, was a Neanderthal woman from a second wave of European emigration to Siberia.

Detailed and pioneering sequencing of the genome of a Neanderthal female (known as Chagyrskaya 8) from this later eastward exodus - whose remains were found in Chagyrskaya Cave - shows them to be distinct from the first arrivals in Siberia. 

Denny’s remains were found in Denisova Cave, some 106 kilometres away in the limestone foothills of the Altai Mountain, a study in Nature revealed several years ago.

Chagyrskaya cave GV

Excavations site

Excavations site

Excavations in Chagyrskaya cave. Pictures: Sergey Zelensky

Her father is known to have been Denisovan - another extinct early human branch whose home was in Siberia.

He had feint traces of Neanderthal in his genetic makeup but these derived from the earlier influx by the Neanderthals into Siberia, some 30,000 years  previously.

And indeed it was already known that the early wave of Neanderthals had cave-shared with Denisovans. 

Intriguingly, the new international study reveals that Denny’s mother matches closely the genome of the second wave of Neaderthals who were clustered at Chagyrskaya Cave.

‘Chagyrskaya 8 is most closely related among currently known Neandertal to the mother of Denisova 11 (Denny) found at Denisova Cave,’ states the new study headed by the the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

So it now appears that the Denisovans had sexual relations with both the earlier and later incoming Neanderthals. 

And in Denny’s mother’s case it opens the possibility of a walk of love some 66 miles across the Altai Mountain foothills between Chagyrskaya and Denisova caves some 90,000 years ago. 

Stone tools

Stone tool from the cave

Stone tools found in Chagyrskaya cave are similar to the Micoquian tools found in Europe. Pictures: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SBRAS, The Siberian Times

Yet there may be a problems with this theory, since the latest study sees the Neanderthals at Chagyrskaya Cave between 60,000 and 80,000 years ago,  while Denny has been dated as 90,000 years old. 

This discrepancy is apparently due to two different approaches to date the archaic humans, using so-called "molecular clock", or direct dating methods, like luminiscence or uranium-thorium dating.

The new research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - and it indicates how the Chagyrskaya Neanderthals are similar in genome sequencing to their cousins in the Vindija Cave of Croatia.  

Sample bone

Neanderthals bone taken for DNA sampling. Picture: PNAS

Discoveries in the cave where Denny lives suggest that some 50,000 years ago the Denisovans were allegedly more advanced than both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. 

A bracelet made from made from stunning green-hued chlorite, bead jewellery made from ostrich eggs, and a needle - still useable today - testify to the talents of masters, say archeologists. 

Denisovan blood lives on, but nowhere near Siberia.

Remarkably, Denny’s relatives - with five per cent Denisovan DNA - are the native peoples of Australia and Papua New Guinea, presumably after her descendants gradually migrated eastwards from Siberia - interbreeding as they journeyed.

Denisovan tiara

Denisova Cave needleq

There are two extra rows with four notches on the lion’s right side.

Cave lion figurine made of woolly mammoth tusk found at Denisova Cave 

Cave lion figurine made of woolly mammoth tusk found at Denisova Cave 

Treasures of the Denisova cave: the stunning bracelet, the world's oldest needle, the mammoth ivory tiara and set of tools. Pictures: Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, The Siberian Times 

The Denisovans were first identified a decade ago when a tiny finger bone fragment of so-called 'X woman' was discovered,  a young female who lived around 41,000 years ago.

She was neither Home sapiens nor Neanderthal. 

Meanwhile, Denisovans may have met Homo sapiens in Mongolia, interbreeding to give modern man genes to cope with the cold but also teaching key Stone Age tool skills, say scientists.

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