The denisovans were a group of archaic humans in the genus Homo. The species is sometimes given the name Homo sp. Altai, and Homo sapiens ssp. Denisova. The name derives from the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia which contained fossils from Denisovans.
Genetic studes suggests that Denisovans shared a common origin with Neanderthals, that they ranged from Siberia to South-East Asia, and that they lived among and interbred with the ancestors of some modern humans, with about 3% to 5% of the DNA of Australoids deriving from Denisovans.
Genetic analysis have further suggested that this new species was the result of an earlier migration out of Africa, distinct from the later out-of-Africa migrations associated with modern humans, but also distinct from the earlier African exodus of Homo erectus. The existence of this distant branch creates a much more complex picture of humankind during the late Pleistocene. This work shows that the Denisovans were actually a sister group to the Neanderthals, branching off from the human lineage 600,000 years ago, and diverging from Neanderthals, probably in the Middle East, 200,000 years later.
A 2013 study stated that mainland Asians and Native Americans had around 0.2% Denisovan ancestry. However, a 2016 study stated that "Modern humans carry remnants of DNA from interbreeding events with archaic lineages, such as Neandertals. However, people from Oceania also retain genes from a second ancient lineage, the Denisovans. Vernot et al. surveyed archaic genomic sequences in a worldwide sample of modern humans, including 35 individuals from the Melanesian Islands. All non-African genomes surveyed contained Neandertal DNA, but a significant Denisovan component was found only in the Melanesians. Reconstruction of this genetic history suggests that Neandertals bred with modern humans multiple times, but Denosivans only once, in ancestors of modern-day Melanesians."
Little is known of the precise anatomical features of the Denisovans, since the only physical remains discovered thus far are a finger bone, two teeth, and a toe bone. The finger bone is unusually broad and robust, well outside the variation seen in modern people. Surprisingly, it belonged to a female, indicating that the Denisovans were extremely robust, perhaps similar in build to the Neanderthals. The tooth that has been characterized shares no derived morphological features with Neanderthal or modern humans.
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