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.
Researchers have also theorized that the area's harsh environment could have helped drive some of the cultural development of the Denisovans, as well their hominin cousins.
“Rather harsh and changeable natural conditions forced Denisovans to be more adaptive than, for example, their contemporaries in Europe and Southeast Asia," Dr Anatoly Derevyanko, head of the Mammal Laboratory of Moscow Paleontological Institute, told The Siberian Times.
“The material culture of Denisovans is a wider set of tools compared to tropics or subtropics where humans could feed on plant food nearly all year and hunting was a side activity,” he added.
“Wild growing plants contributed to 10 percent – 15 percent of the Denisovan diet in two to three summer months. The rest of it depended exclusively on hunting which requires developing cognitive abilities: communication, group activities, passing on experience and so on.”
However, a lot of mysteries and uncertainties still lie in the cave.