Sunday, March 28, 2010

The X-Woman of Siberia

There have been many articles lately about a humanoid 'pinky finger' anthropologists have recently analyzed. The bone was unearthed in 2008 in a cave in Denisova, Siberia. Scientists are dubbing her X-woman, and it seems she is a genetically distinct hominin from modern humans and Neanderthals. This would mean that at about 48,000 to 30,000 years ago Modern Humans, Neanderthals, and another human creature co-existed in Central Asia.

At first, I thought: "How can scientists say it's a distinct hominin with only a pinky bone?"Of course I wasn't thinking immediately of the marvel of DNA. No doubt paleoanthropologists like Leaky would be dumbfounded to imagine a new species could ever be identified from a pinky bone. But mitochondrial DNA tells the tale, if we are interpreting it properly.

Scientists are aware of several migrations of human creatures out of Africa. The Denisova cave creature may represent a previously unknown and distinct species, that left Africa 1 million years ago. To give some perspective, modern humans and Neantherthals share a common ancestor from 466,000 years ago. (Neanderthals still remain our nearest and dearest human cousins). Earlier migrations included Homoheidelbergensis from 650,000 years ago, and Homo Erectus from 2 million years ago.

What this discovery and others will yield in the future is hard to say. One thing remains certain, though, that DNA analysis will skyrocket our understanding and knowledge of human evolution. No longer do we have to unearth whole skulls and knees and hands to find the 'missing link'. Perhaps a finger bone or tooth may do.

Will we find other lines of humans in Asia and Europe, or evidence of interbreeding?

If several human creatures co-existed in various parts of the earth, it is hard to imagine a lack of interaction and interbreeding. The question remains, though, if this interbreeding left any genetic effects. Do all modern humans descend from one group that dominated and extinguished all other humanoid groups? Or are there genetic remainders in some of us from some of these other creatures? It's an interesting and sexy question which will require further discoveries and further analysis to answer.

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