New Human Species Discovered in Siberia: X-Woman

In a followup to an earlier post, researchers with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have made more than one extraordinary discovery this year.

Just before their recent triumph in sequencing a good bit of the Neandertal genome and producing the startling result that non-Africans have a little Neandertal DNA in them, word came that a Siberian hominid they’ve sequenced is a new species that lived about 30,000 to 48,000 years ago and was thus a contemporary of both modern humans and Neandertals.  And here’s another excellent article on the same topic.

A few years ago, the Neandertals were the only hominids known to be contemporary with Homo sapiens.  Coming on top of the surprising discovery in 2003 of Homo floresiensis, an extinct dwarf hominid or “hobbit” who once flourished upon the Indonesian island of Flores, the discovery of this new Siberian hominid means the list has grown to three in just a few years.  Undoubtedly paleoanthropologists are beginning to wonder what other surprises are in store.

The discovery was made by sequencing the mitochondrial DNA from a small finger bone found during excavations at Denisova Cave, located in the Altai Mountains of Southern Siberia.  The sex of the individual is still unclear, but in some quarters it is being called the “X-Woman.”

Since the Institute’s analysis shows that X-Woman shared a common ancestor with Homo sapiens and Neandertals about 1 million years ago, and this doesn’t coincide with known emigrations from Africa at about 1.9 million (Homo erectus), 500,000 (Homo heidelbergensis > Homo neanderthalensis) and 50,000 (Homo sapiens) years ago, it is therefore believed that the discovery of the X-Woman is evidence of yet another emigration ca. 1,000,000 years ago.

If you’d like to read books about human evolution owned by Greensboro Public Library, check out this previous post.

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