A Lost Baby Molar Is Currently Our Fourth and Oldest Known Denisovan Individual


The newly discovered Denisovan tooth is the oldest specimen of this ancient human cousin found so far. BENCE VIOLA

A paper published this past Friday in the journal Science Advances, shared the reports from a team of paleoanthropologists who found the fourth Denisovan individual known to us. Viviane Slon, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and lead author of the study, reported the finding in the form of a 100,000 year old molar of a Siberian child.

This loose deciduous tooth was discovered in 1984 and labeled it ‘Denisova 2,’ from the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains. The scant fossil record for these hominin species previously included only two adult molars and a finger bone, and were only correctly identified about 7 years ago from that finger bone which was sequenced the species’ genome.

The entrance to Denisova Cave in Siberia, where a tooth was discovered in 1984. BENCE VIOLA

Fig. 1 Maximum likelihood tree relating the Denisova 2 mtDNA to other ancient and present-day mtDNAs.

The baby molar ‘Denisova 2’ is at least 100,000 years, possibly 150,000 years old which makes it at least 20,000 years older than the next oldest Denisovan specimen, a molar labeled ‘Denisova 8.’ It is also one of the oldest hominin remains found in Central Asia so far.

There was not too much to be learned from studying the tooth’s morphology or appearance, but the genetic analysis, on the other hand, provided the keys to learning more about the species. About 10 milligrams of material was extracted from the tooth, and ancient DNA analysis was commenced. After sequencing the DNA, Slon and team compared genetic information from the sample with genetic data already collected from the other Denisovans, as well as Neanderthals and modern humans… The tooth was most similar to Denisovan mitochondrial genomes.