Growing up you believe the world is meant to be the way it is. The older I get the more I realise that this is not the case. The world is full of injustices and atrocities that governments and the voice of faith expect us to accept, though with each passing year they grow fewer and fewer, at least one would hope. I have created this blog as a space for me to rant about all things science, politics, philosophy and religion, before it’s too late and the vessel of new atheism propelled by a growing surge in secularism solves all of the world’s problems for good.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Humans, Neanderthals and now Denisovans!

So the lonely two has now potentially scored a third cousin on the hominin evolutionary tree. Give a warm round of applause to the Denisovans... at least, we hope? Recent findings give strength to the hypothesis that there was a third major group of hominins inhabiting Eurasia at the same time as early humans and our cousins the Neanderthals. It may even show that all three groups were interbreeding.

Fossilized remains have been found in western Siberia in the Stone Age Denisova Cave. Most recently a toe bone was found that is between 30 000-50 000 years old. Studies of the toe, alongside a previously found finger and tooth fossil, indicate a more primitive morphology and suggest that Denisovans split from the Neanderthals around 300 000 years ago. The scientists involved believe that they came to occupy a vast area of Asia while Europe and western Asia were being dominated by Neanderthals. We know that at about 40,000 years ago Homo sapiens were also inhabiting the same regions. However, the Denisovans remain somewhat of an enigma while we only have a few fragmented bones to analyse. More information is definitely required before giving them the status of their own species.

There's a bit of controversy over the findings and the subsequent conclusions drawn, especially when it comes to making conclusions from morphological analysis. For me to be fully convinced of this being a distinct third species of hominins I'd want it to be backed up with some solid DNA evidence. Some DNA was extracted and examined from a finger bone last year supporting their hypothesis. So here's hoping that the same can be done with the toe bone that becomes further support for the third hominin. Would be nice for two to become three!

Meanwhile, it's nice to note there's still so much out there that we don't know and is waiting to be discovered.

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