DNA Analysis Reveals Potential For Previously Unknown Species Of Human

Melanesians may be descendants from four different species of humans. Guido Amrein Switzerland/Shutterstock
Josh Davis 27 Jul 2016, 14:40

To the best of our knowledge, we know that a small band of modern humans, those that would eventually give rise to you and me, left the African continent at least 60,000 years ago. But they were not the first human species to make it outside of the natal homeland. From Homo heidelbergensis to Homo erectus, various ancient humans dispersed from Africa over the preceding hundreds of thousands of years before we even existed as a species. These spread out across Eurasia, and eventually gave rise to other species, such as Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals) and Homo floresiensis (the "hobbits").

So far from being pioneers, when we eventually entered the scene, we were fairly late to the party. We now know that as we began to colonize Europe, we started interacting with the Neanderthals who were already present, even mating with them. But recently, the picture was made even more complex, as researchers discovered there may have been a third human species interacting with our ancestors, all based on a single fragment of bone and two teeth discovered in a cave in Siberia.

It is now widely accepted that these mysterious humans, called the Denisovans, were also mating with modern humans and Neanderthals, and that their descendants spread throughout Southeast Asia, as modern genetics show that people living there today have a much higher proportion of Denisovan DNA than any other population in the rest of the world.

But it now seems that it doesn’t even stop there, as the new research suggests that the picture from this region is far more complex and convoluted than anyone could have guessed. With little chance that well-preserved organic remains from this period survived due to the tropical environment, we may never know the true picture of our expansion out of Africa.

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