Unearthed finger bone points to the possible discovery of an unknown hominin

DNA analysis from a finger bone unearthed from Denisova Cave, Siberia might lead to the discovery of an unknown hominin. Dubbed “X-Woman”, information from her mitochondrial DNA suggests that she shared a last common ancestor with modern human and Neanderthals about one million years ago.

Since Neanderthals and modern humans split at about 500,000 year ago, it suggests that she did not originate from that divergent. Instead, she represents an unknown hominin lineage, presumably an unknown migration out of Africa. “X-Woman” is too young to be a descendant of Homo erectus (which migrated out of Africa to Asia about two million years ago) yet too old to be a descendant of Homo heidelbergensis.

“Whoever carried this mitochondrial genome out of Africa about a million years ago is some new creature that has not been on our radar screens so far,” said co-author Professor Svante Paabo, also from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Read more about this discovery on BBC News, DNA identifies new ancient human.
Said article can be found on Nature, The complete mitochondrial DNA genome of an unknown hominin from southern Siberia (Krause et al., 2010). Unfortunately I do not have access to said journal so if you have a copy I’d appreciate it A LOT if you can send it to me.

Originally posted on The Prancing Papio.

10 thoughts on “Unearthed finger bone points to the possible discovery of an unknown hominin

  1. Hand-axes get to Europe and Asia from Africa around 800 kBP. This would be possible correlation with the “X-Woman” expansion. I think erectus OH9 and OH12 (1.5-1 MBP) are the most probable candidates for the root of “X-Woman” and modern people.

    1. I am not sure if “X-Woman” is H. erectus. 95% C.I. of TMRCA range between 779,300-1,313,500, which is after H. erectus arrived in East Asia. If “X-Woman” is H. erectus, TMRCA should be older?

      1. There was not just one migration out of Africa. At least the technology was spread several times, try to google “Allen Templeton, out of Africa”. Erectus survived in Java till 35kbp, Flores 14kbp. Look at this:


        Homo erectus bilzingslebensis 300kbp in the middle of Europe with the biggest similarities to OH9.

        To have mtDNA lineage of erectus does not mean to be erectus …

        1. Good point. I forgot about H. ergaster and that is another possibility in addition to H. heidelbergensis. If we believe that Asian H. erectus was a different species from African H. ergaster who were direct ancestors of H. heidelbergenesis, H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens, the Denisova individual could be a descendant of H. ergaster who took very different evolutionary path from Neanderthals and Anatomically modern human. The 95% C.I. of TMRCA (1.-0.7) also slightly overlap with the time H. ergaster existed in East Africa (1.8-1.3 mya). If we believe this scenario, first there was an out of Africa event of H. erectus into Asia and then another out of Africa event of H. ergaster into Western Eurasia. However, TMRCA is too young for Asian H. erectus and all others to share the common ancestor that recent, so mtDNA of the Denisova individual is probably not that of H. erectus, as Krause et al. suggested in their article. Of course, we are talking about only maternal side of evolutionary history. I am familiar with Alan Templeton’s work. I agree with him and there are several out of African events and there is possibility of gene flow between different groups of human ancestors. I believe this discussion on who this Denisova individual is reflects the on-going discussions of the taxonomic problem by many biological anthropologists.

  2. This is an interesting article showing that a great genetic diversity existed in the past. I think because the 95% C.I. of TMRCA slightly overlaps with the time that H. heidelbergensis existed, we cannot reject the hypothesis of the Denisova individual = a descendant of H. heidelbergenesis, but if H. heidelbergenesis were ancestors of Neanderthals, the ancestors of Neanderthals and the Denisova individual were genetically quit different. So, there were three different groups of Homo co-existed in the area?

  3. “If we believe this scenario, first there was an out of Africa event of H. erectus into Asia and then another out of Africa event of H. ergaster into Western Eurasia”.

    There is actually another possibility. We accept that Homo erectus moved out of Africa nearly two million years ago. Perhaps the Denisova group arose from it in Asia. Then Neanderthals evolved from it in Europe on its way back into Africa. In which case the Denisova individual would probably be H. ergaster. It’s quite possible that both H. ergaster and the hand-axe are immigrants into Africa.

  4. Has anyone published on this idea… The competitive advantage of our ancestors over other contemporary hominids might have been dogs. If we were the only ones to develop the dog/human relationship (happened about the same time… c. 35,000 years ago) then we would have been safe from surprise attack… large prey tired from being pursued by dogs would have been safer to kill…even as we traveled, we would have been safe from ambush.

    Jan Eliassen, Chestertown, MD

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