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Shocking: New Finding Suggests Our Ancestors Mated With Unidentified Species

Scientists have found a genome that links humans with species that is neither human nor neanderthal.

A new study presented to the Royal Society has unveiled a potentially dramatic finding regarding mankind’s origins and evolution: the genome of one branch of our ancient ancestors, the Denisovans, contains a segment of DNA that apparently comes from an entirely different species. The finding was revealed at a Royal Society meeting on ancient DNA in London last week, and it was a shocker. What it suggested, scientists say is rampant interbreeding between ancient human-like species in Europe and Asia some 30,000 years ago. The most significant bit of data presented, however, was the finding that while the species isn’t fully identifiable yet, it is clear that our early anciestors mated with a mystery species from Asia that is neither human, as we know it, nor Neanderthal.

“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a Lord of the Rings-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London told the journal Nature.

Many are suggesting that a group of early human ancestors loosely tied to the Homo heidelbernensis subsect may have branched off to Asia roughly half-a-million years ago, and may potentially be the truest ancestors of European Neanderthals. When first published, the Neanderthal and Denisovan genome sequence revolutionized the study of early human history, revealing that all modern humans whose ancestry originates outside of Africa owe about 2% of their genome to Neanderthals. The new study advances the idea that the population was breeding so much that there is a strong chance it did so with a now-extinct population of archaic human-types species that lived more than 30,000 years ago. 

Some in the scientific community are doubting the findings, such as London Natural History Museum paleoanthropologist Chris Stringler, who has said that scientists “don’t have the faintest idea” what the mystery species could be, as most evidence is still in its relative infancy. The evidence in question was largely pulled from a genome found in two teeth and the finger bone of a Denisovan, found in a Siberian cave. The teeth and finger mark relatively large portions of data considering that there are no Denisovan fossils, which is why so little is known about them. Nevertheless, the results created a buzz that is now being explored by a scientific community fascinated by the notion of a potential missing historical link between the humans of today and yesteryear.

Read more about the study here: http://www.nature.com/news/mystery-humans-spiced-up-ancients-sex-lives-1.14196 

 

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.