Long ago, but not too long ago, this cave was the place to be. At some point over 50,000 years ago, it was a regular hangout spot for humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans, a mysterious species of extinct hominid closely related to modern humans.
Now is your chance to take a rare peek inside this profoundly important pit stop in the journey of humanity.
The Denisova Cave is found in the misty foothills of the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia, not far from the Russian border with China and Mongolia. Over the past decade, scientists have come across evidence of just four Denisovans – catchily named Denisova 2, Denisova 3, Denisova 4, and Denisova 8 – all of whom were discovered in this remote cave. This physical evidence merely consists of a few fossilized teeth and finger bones, nevertheless they tell us about a truly incredible chapter in hominid history.
Just recently, scientists studying the cave’s remains made one of their most incredible discoveries yet. Genetic analysis of a fleck of bone that once belonged to a teenage female, no younger than 13 years old, showed that she had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father – hard proof that Neanderthals and Denisovans regularly canoodled. We also know that humans had sex with Denisovans. After all, some present-day humans, especially in parts of southeast Asia, share up to 6 percent of their DNA with Denisovans.
Who knows, perhaps this cave was the location of all this inter-hominid romancing.
Why these hominid species decided to frequent this cave so often remains a bit of a mystery. After all, it has an average temperature of around 0°C (32°F). Thankfully, this chilled climate has meant that the remains have been refrigerated for all these years, keeping them in remarkably good condition.