Friday, 16 August 2019
Stone tools found in the Russian Altai confirm a human presence in central Asia at ca. 800,000BP. Who were these hominins and what is the evidence? Perhaps it was Homo antecessor (pictured below from Wikimedia commons (2018))?
Karama is an open-air site in southern Siberia. It lies approximately 400km SSE of the city of Novosibirsk on the banks of the Anui River in the northwest of the Altai.
Sites in the region were first noted when 1959 with the discovery of a few flint flakes, followed by petrified bones of large animals in the Iskra Cave in the vicinity of the settlement of the same name.
It took another twenty years, for a systematic, series of excavations to begin under the direction of the Siberian archaeologist A. P. Okladnikov. In total, more than 30 caves and some open-air, sites have now shown evidence of Palaeolithic occupation in the Anui Valley. This unique series of sites includes, Denisova Cave, Okladnikov Cave, Strashnaya Cave, Chagyrskaya Cave, Razboinichya Cave and Karama. The Karama site was discovered in 2001. Presumably this was excavation no.1, on which I have been unable to find any information. The details below refer to excavation no. 2.
The Karama site. Above: View of the site from across the valley, Shunkov (2018) and below initial stages of the excavation from Earth Chronicles (2017).
Second view of the excavation progress, clearly showing the Lower Palaeolithic levels from Shunkov (2018).
On the likely hominins occupying the site and lithics discovered, Zwyns (2014) helpfully translates and summarises papers originally, in Russian: “According to Derevianko, the Altai was first colonized by small populations of Homo erectus/ergaster starting from c. 800 ka, that subsequently disappeared from the region c. 500 ka.
The site that would best represent this first wave of human occupation is Karama, along the Anuy River. The diversity of the exotic flora is said to fit with a Middle Pleistocene attribution and the RTL dates of 643 +/- 130 ka and 542 +/- 110 ka have
been obtained on the lower portion of the sequence (layers 8–14). Although the identifiable artifacts do not include handaxes, Derevianko and Shunkov tend to emphasize elements that would fit with an Acheulean attribution. The technology is described as cores on pebble blanks and flakes with subparallel dorsal pattern. The tool-kit includes various kinds of scrapers (including naturally backed examples), Clactonian notches, and choppers. More surprising is the reported presence of core-like endscrapers with abrupt retouch. Derevianko acknowledged that the first Lower Paleolithic occupation of the Altai is elusive and likely represents a short-term event.”
Lithics from the Karama site placed in the context of the recoded stratigraphy from Derevianko and Shun’kov (2008).
Lithics unearthed at Karama from Shunkov (2018). The slightly confusing, original caption reads: Hunting equipment of primitive inhabitants of the Anui Valley (left). Photo by V. Kavelin. Archaic pebble tool from the site Karama (center). A very ancient point from Karama (right). Photo by V. Kavelin.
Primitive pebble stone tool excavated at Karama from Derevyanko (2019).
On the possible assignment of the early Acheulian tools found to a Clactonian facies it is interesting to look at Stringer (2006), italics mine: “..there are further clues to the nature of the Clactonian from a site.. at Ebbsfleet. Large-scale excavations there for the Channal Tunnel Rail Link and associated engineering works since 1997 have been accompanied by archaeological investigations and, in 2003.. the skeleton of a straight-tusked elephant was found surrounded by about 100 stone tools – Clactonian tools. As at Swanscombe, pollen and other evidence suggested that this Clactonian occupation was early in the warm part of the same interglacial period (about 400,000BP). But the the association of Clactonian tools and a large mammal skeleton was very significant because it had previously been suggested that handaxes were the preferred tools for butchery at this time, yet there are none at Ebbsfleet..”
Therefore there is some precedent for lithic assemblages lacking handaxes, however the dates for the Ebbsfleet lithics are far later than those from Karama. On the other hand, the assumed habitats, climate and, faunal composition of the areas may be broadly similar. Thus an occupation resulting from an early species migration out of Africa, such as that postulated for Homo ergaster/antecessor is not out of the question. It also fits with Stringer’s idea that the hominins that made the Happisburgh footprints 850,000 years ago were Homo antecessor.
However, it was a close analysis of the palynology of the sediments that confirmed the extremely advanced age of the Karama site. Bolikhovskaya and Shunkov (2014) summarised the evidence thus:
“The composition of the autochthonous palynoflora from Karama’s three units comprises over 130 taxa of various tiers. Pollen of 45 genera and species of trees and shrubs as well as 56 species, genera, and families of herbaceous plants and subshrubs have been identified. Thirty taxa represent the spore-bearing plant group (mosses, ferns, lycopods, horsetail, and others).The palynoflora of the lower (strata 13–9) and medial (strata 8 and 7) Karama units is substantially richer than that of the earlier examined synchronous sediments at Cherny Anui and Nizhny Karakol that contained only 25 genera and species of arboreal and shrub taxa. However, according to the taxonomic composition of the dendroflora and the structure of paleophytocenoses, the periods of accumulation of these sediments were relatively close to the interglacial periods reconstructed for Karama. The pollen spectra from Karama strata 7, 8 and 10–13 contain a considerable number of elements that are non-typical of modern boreal flora (Picea sect. Omorica, Pinus sect. Strobus, Pinus cf. koraiensis, Betula sect. Costatae) and nemoral European, Far Eastern and other taxa (Juglans mandshurica, Carpinus betulus, C. cordata, C. orientalis, Ostrya sp., Quercus robur, Tilia cordata, T. amurensis, T. mandshurica, Ulmus pumila, Corylus avellana, Alnus glutinosa, A. incana, Morus sp.). Many were first recorded in the pollen spectra of the Middle Pleistocene deposits of the Anui valley. The presence of Pinus sect. Strobus, Carpinus cordata, C. orientalis, Ostrya sp., Quercus robur, Tilia cordata, T. amurensis, T. mandshurica, Alnus glutinosa, A. incana, Corylus avellana, Juglans mandshurica Carpinus betulus, Ulmus pumila, Morus sp., etc. in strata 7, 8 and 10–13 as well as eco-coenotic features of the exotic taxa found, results of the analysis of the geographical groups of dendroflora, and other data suggest the Middle Pleistocene age of the sediments. For instance, hop hornbeam Ostrya sp. and mulberry Morus sp., belonging to the group of American-Mediterranean-Asian genera, indicate the Middle Pleistocene age of sediments in the southern Cis-Baikal and Upper Amur regions (Makhova, 1978; Grichuk, 1982). The interglacial palynofloras of Karama differ considerably from the Early Pleistocene floras of the eastern Altai, southern part of Western Siberia, and other mountainous and plain regions of Siberia and the Far East. They lack pollen grains of subtropical, broad-leaved species such as Pterocarya, Carya, Zelkova, Celtis, Ilex, Tsuga , and other exotic taxa of the pine family that are characteristic of the warm-loving Early Pleistocene floras of the named regions. This contradicts the idea that Karama dates back to the Early Pleistocene. However, some researchers argue that the Early Pleistocene age of the Karama lower unit cannot be ruled out (Zykin et al., 2005). This assumption is based on paleomagnetic testing of the entire section that yielded evidence of normal polarity as well as on the presence of two vertisols in the lower portion of the section. Previously, such soils were recorded only in Pliocene sediments of Western and Middle Siberia. This allowed V.S. Zykin and his colleagues to correlate the lower Karama strata with the Barnaul Lower Pleistocene layers, and, correspondingly, with the Olduvai subchron. However, we can hardly agree with this assumption, since the Middle Pleistocene interglacals reconstructed on the basis of the Karama pollen data differ considerably from the period of formation of the Barnaul strata in southern Western Siberia in floral, phytocenosis, and paleoclimatic characteristics. The sediments bearing the Barnaul floral remains were formed in forest-steppe and steppe zones and in a climate similar to the modern climate, while the Karama interglacial floras existed under warmer and less continental climatic conditions than today. The spore and pollen spectra of Karama indicate considerable faunal changes mirroring numerous fluctuations of plant biomes caused by climatic fluctuations over four reconstructed stages of the Brunhes event. The first interglacial recorded in the section corresponds to the accumulation period of strata 13–10 that can be correlated with MIS 19, or the Gremyachie interglacial of the Russian Plain dated to 790–760 ka BP. This period was characterized by a climate warmer than it is now and a dominance of forest-steppe and forest landscapes.”
Other commentators, also concur with this dating: from Kuzmin and Kazansky (2019): “Factual information and its interpretation regarding the geological age of the Lower Palaeolithic site of Karama (Altai Mountains, Siberia) are considered. It is demonstrated that palynological data do not allow to date this site to earlier than ca. 800 kya; archaeological data are consistent with this estimate. The viewpoint of V. S. Zykin with coauthors, according to which the age of Karama is ca. 1.95-1.77 mya, finds no support in the light of the available geological and paleomagnetic evidence. The so-called “Karama suite” of the Upper Pliocene of Altai Mountains in reality does not exist. For the time being there are no reliable data indicating than the initial peopling of Siberia took place prior to ca. 1 mya.”
Bolikhovskaya, N.S. and Shunkov, M.V., 2014. Pleistocene environments of northwestern Altai: Vegetation and climate. Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, 42(2), pp.2-17.
Derevianko, A. P. and M. V. Shun’kov (2008) Early Paleolithic of Altai in Early Paleolithic Of Eurasia: New Discoveries, International Conference Program and Abstracts Krasnodar – Temriuk, 1–6 September 2008 S. A. Vasil’ev, A. P. Derevianko, G. G. Matishov, Kh. A. Amirkhanov, V. E. Shchelinsky, A. A. Velichko, G. I. Medvedev, L. B. Vishnyatsky, S. A. Kulakov, V. V. Titov eds.
Derevyanko A.P. (2019). Science First Hand “Where has Homo sapiens come from” from: https://scfh.ru/en/papers/where-has-homo-sapiens-come-from/ accessed 17.08.19
Earth Chronicles (2017) “There are confirmations that people appeared in Siberia 800 thousand years ago” at: http://earth-chronicles.com/science/there-are-confirmations-that-people-appeared-in-siberia-800-thousand-years-ago.html accessed 14.08.19
Kuzmin, V. and Y. Kazansky (2019). Chronology of the Lower Palaeolithic Site of Karama (Gorny Altai): Facts and Problems. Stratum plus. 2019. No1 online at
https://www.e-anthropology.com/English/Catalog/Archaeology/STM_DWL_coSJ_lBu5LSrAZyBs.aspx accessed 14.08.19
Shunkov, M.V. (2018). Science First Hand, “The Golden Section of the Anui” from https://scfh.ru/en/papers/the-golden-section-of-anui/ accessed 14.08.19
Stringer, C., 2007. Homo Britannicus: The incredible story of human life in Britain. Penguin UK.
Wikipedia commons (2018) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Homo-Antecessor.jpeg accessed 17.08.19
Saturday, 10 August 2019
Callao Cave lies within what was initially, the Callao Cave National Park. It was first set up during the American colonial period of the Philippines (1898-1946). The then, American Governor-General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., (son of the American president), created the Philippines, National Park system with the passing of Act No. 3195. Callao Cave became one of the earliest national parks of the country when it was established on July 16, 1935. The park has been enlarged several times since, and now forms part of the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape.
Prior to the archaeological interest of the cave being established, it was a show cave with 11 chambers. The cathedral-like first chamber is the largest room with a width of about 50 m (160 ft) and a height of 36 m (118 ft). This chamber has been turned into a chapel by the local people with the alter a natural rock formation lit by a stream of light from an opening in the roof.
Callao cave from Tayag (2019)
Excavations in 2007 by Armand Salvador Mijares discovered the first human fossil: a metatarsal, tentatively assigned, at the time to Homo sapiens. Excavations continued and further fossils were uncovered.
Based on the metatarsal found in 2007 and other more recently discovered bones a new species of human was announced in April 2019, by Détroit et al. (2019).
Named Homo luzonensis for the island of its discovery in the Philippines, the bones have been dated to 67,000BP by the U/Th method. The fossil collection consists of an additional 12 bones and teeth. From the paper: “Continued excavations in Callao Cave that originally yielded the hominin third metatarsal (which we here call CCH1 for ‘Callao Cave Hominin 1’) have produced another twelve hominin elements from the same stratigraphic layer (layer 14): seven postcanine maxillary teeth (CCH6-a to CCH6-e, CCH8, CCH9); two manual phalanges (CCH2 and CCH5); two pedal phalanges (CCH3 and CCH4) and a femoral shaft (CCH7). CCH1 and CCH6-a are directly dated by U-series analysis to minimum ages of 67 thousand years (kyr) and 50 kyr, respectively. Crown morphology, grade of occlusal wear and exact correspondences of interproximal contact facets demonstrate that five of the upper right teeth belonged to a single individual (CCH6-a to CCH6-e).
The molars and pre-molars of Homo luzonensis from Margaritoff (2019). These are the fossils named as CCH6a-e.
These teeth along with two others (a L P3/4 and an additional R M3), do not match those of any known hominin species. Put simply: their varied morphology and small sizes do not match any human ancestors. As Détroit et al (2019) point out: “the overall pattern of morphology seen in the dental remains of H. luzonensis is easily distinguishable from all previously described hominin species.”
Pruitt (2019) on the proximal phalanx recovered: “The foot bones identified as Homo luzonensis also stand out for their combination of primitive and developed features, which indicates members of the species might have had a distinctive way of walking. The proximal phalanx (which forms the base of the toe) is curved, with highly developed insertions for the muscles involved in the flexion of the foot.” She also interviewed Détroit: “These characteristics do not exist in Homo sapiens,” he said. In fact, the foot bones found in Callao Cave are more similar, to Australopithecus, which was known to live only in Africa some 2-3 million years ago. This suggests Homo luzonensis might (like Australopithecus) have had the ability to easily climb trees as well as walk upright on two legs, though it’s not clear whether they did so.
Proximal phalanx excavated from Callao cave, from Pruitt (2019). Original caption reads: “A proximal foot phalanx of Homo luzonensis, showing the longitudinal curvature of the bone.”
The remainder of the pedal and manual phalanxes also showed affinities to Australopithecines.
The final fossil found was a femoral shaft. Again from Détroit: “The referred specimen, CCH7, is a partial left femur from which both the proximal and distal ends are missing. Transverse slices of micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) scans show a high density of Haversian canals in the cortical bone that is characteristic of a growing juvenile individual.“ Due to its incomplete nature it was of little diagnostic value, except to show that the species was probably of short stature.
Finally Détroit et al. conclude: “The presence of two right upper third molars (M3; CCH6-a and CCH9) and a juvenile femoral shaft (CCH7) indicates that at least three individuals are represented. On the basis of the unique mosaic of primitive (that is, Australopithecus-like) and derived (that is, H. sapiens-like) morphological features observed on these specimens, we assign them to a new species, H. luzonensis.”
Whilst these remains put archaic humans, possibly related to Australopithecines, in Luzon as recently as 50,000 years ago when they arrived is an open question. However, other definite, evidence of occupation of the island has been published recently.
Ingicco et al. (2018) excavated a site in the Cagayan valley of northern Luzon, only 30km from Calao Cave. This site (Kalinga) has yielded 57 stone tools and remains of megafauna (Rhinoceros philippinensis): an almost-complete disarticulated skeleton, which shows clear signs of butchery. Other fossil faunal remains found are attributed to stegodon, Philippine brown deer, freshwater turtle and monitor lizard. All finds originate from a clay-rich bone bed that was dated to between 777 and 631 thousand years ago using electron-spin resonance methods that were applied to tooth enamel and fluvial quartz.
Regionally both east and west of the Wallace line there are a number, of equally old or slightly younger finds. The map below shows some of the most important sites:
Important south east Asian regional hominin sites adapted from Soares et al. (2008). Dark grey: current coastline; light grey: sea level at LGM -120m, here assumed to be similar to low stands during previous glaciations. It is noteworthy that all sites occupied between 700,000 and 50,000BP were at one time or another, within easy reach of Sundaland.
The original Homo erectus material from Trinil and further discoveries made on Java. Dating on these fossils is still contentious, with dates ranging from as recent as ca. 70,000BP to as old as ca. 550,000BP.
The 110,000-200,000 year old stone tools from Sulawesi I covered in an earlier post (see here).
The Homo floresiensis material from Liang Bua Cave on Nusa Tunggara East (“Flores”). This is another small bodied, possibly Australopithecine, related hominin which survived to approximately 50,000BP.
From the same island is the Mata Menge jawbone, predating Homo floresiensis by a full 650,000 years, yet still hypothesised to be the ‘Hobbit’s’ ancestor. Whilst the huge time span of these dates seems to make this hypothesis far-fetched a recent paper by Argue et al. (2017) based on morphometric comparisons has found that: “H. floresiensis is sister either to H. habilis alone or to a clade consisting of at least H. habilis, H. erectus, Homo ergaster, and H. sapiens. A close phylogenetic relationship between H. floresiensis and H. erectus or H. sapiens can be rejected; furthermore, most of the traits separating H. floresiensis from H. sapiens are not readily attributable to pathology (e.g., Down syndrome). The results suggest H. floresiensis is a long-surviving relict of an early (>1.75 Ma) hominin lineage and a hitherto unknown migration out of Africa, and not a recent derivative of either H. erectus or H. sapiens.”
Lastly there are the Acheulian stone tools from the Air Tawar in southern Sumatra excavated by a French team – see Forestier (2007). These are between 400,000 and 200,000 years old and are some of the largest bifaces found outside of Africa being over 30cm long.
Acheulian biface discovered at Air Tawar, southern Sumatra from Forestier (2007).
Whilst the original finding of Homo floresiensis seemed at the time of its discovery a one-off fluke survival, the further discoveries in south east Asia have begun to paint a picture of far greater Middle Pleistocene, hominin diversity in the region than previously suspected.
Indeed, if we consider the unexplained fossils from nearby mainland Asia, such as those of the Red Deer People, Maba, Dali and Jinniushan we can see that the history of human migration and evolution in the region is far more complex than previously believed.
Personally, I think that true version of the human story in south east Asia has yet to be even dreamed of by current scientists. If I have a Damascene moment and come up with something paradigm-shattering, I’ll let you know.
Argue, D., Groves, C.P., Lee, M.S. and Jungers, W.L., 2017. The affinities of Homo floresiensis based on phylogenetic analyses ofácranial, dental, and postcranial characters. Journal of Human Evolution, 107, pp.107-133.
Détroit, F., Mijares, A.S., Corny, J., Daver, G., Zanolli, C., Dizon, E., Robles, E., Grün, R. and Piper, P.J., 2019. A new species of Homo from the Late Pleistocene of the Philippines. Nature, 568(7751), p.181.
Ingicco, T., van den Bergh, G. D., Jago-On, C., Bahain, J., Chacón, M. G., Amano, N., Forestier, H., King, C., Manalo, K., Nomade, S., Pereira, A., Reyes, M. C., Semah, A., Shao, Q., Voinchet, P., Falgueres, C., Albers, P. C.H., Lising, M., Lyras, G., Yurnaldi, D., Rochette, P., Bautista, A. & de Vos, J. (2018). Earliest known hominin activity in the Philippines by 709 thousand years ago. Nature, 557 233-237.
Forestier, H., 2007. Les éclats du passé préhistorique de Sumatra: une très longue histoire des techniques. Archipel, 74(1), pp.15-44.
Margaritoff, M (2019) “Meet The Hobbit-Like Early Human Ancestor Known As Callao Man” from https://allthatsinteresting.com/callao-man-homo-luzonensis accessed 05.08.19
Pruitt, S. (2019) “Previously Unknown Human Species Discovered in the Philippines” A and E Television Networks at https://www.history.com/news/new-hominin-homo-luzonensis-discovery-philippines accessed 04.08.19
Soares, P., Trejaut, J.A., Loo, J.H., Hill, C., Mormina, M., Lee, C.L., Chen, Y.M., Hudjashov, G., Forster, P., Macaulay, V. and Bulbeck, D., 2008. Climate change and postglacial human dispersals in Southeast Asia. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 25(6), pp.1209-1218.
Tayag, Y. (2019). “A New Species of Ancient Human Was Discovered in a Cave in the Philippines” from Inverse at https://www.inverse.com/article/54763-new-species-of-human-is-called-homo-luzonensis accessed 05.08.19
Saturday, 3 August 2019
As part of my exploration of the peopling of the Americas, I considered whether Neanderthals could have migrated there in time to be the hominins breaking bones in southern California 130,000BP (see here).
I therefore wanted to know what the distribution of Neanderthal sites, or possible Neanderthal sites was in central/east Asia but also worldwide.
For publication on the blog I created Google a map of the relevant central or east Asian sites. However, I could not resist mapping ALL Neanderthal sites for personal intertest.
I thought, a fairly, comprehensive list and map, might be of interest to readers of this blog. Below is my list and map. You can zoom the Google map in to each Neanderthal location. This is particularly useful where some sites are close together – for example Gibraltar. Clicking on location brings up a short ‘biography’ for each site.
Neanderthal sites of western Europe by country
Couvin - Trou de l'Abîme
Devil's Tower Cave (Gibraltar)
Forbes Quarry (Gibraltar)
Gorham's Cave (Gibraltar)
Ibex Cave (Gibraltar)
Beefsteak Cave (Gibraltar)
Europa point 1 (Gibraltar)
Cresswell Crags - Pin Hole Cave
Cresswell Crags - Church Hole Cave
Cresswell Crags - Robin Hood Cave
Cresswell Crags - Mother Grundy's Parlour
Dead Man's Cave
Durdam Down cave
La Cotte de St. Brelade (Jersey)
Great Yarmouth Neanderthal Handaxes
Bournemouth Bout Coupe Handaxes
Westley Brick Pit
Catalan Bay (Gibraltar)
Ash Tree Cave
Pleasley Vale Cave
Harborough Rocks Cave
Elder Bus Cave
Hopton Hand Axe
Les Roi Cave
Roc de Marsal
Grotte du Lazaret
Grotte de la Chaise
Grotte des Barasses
La grotte d'Artenac
Grotte de Fontéchevade
La grotte de Montgaudier
Grotte du Placard
Abri des Pêcheurs
Abri du Maras
La grotte de l'Hortus
Grotte de Malarnaud
Bau de l’Aubesier
Grotte des Fées – Châtelperron
Le Fond des Blanchards
La Roque St. Christophe
Pou au Rozel
La Roche Cotard
Les Etangs de la Brenière
La Tour Fondue
Grotte de Saint Anne I
La Grotte du Rond du Barry
L'Homme de Denise
Grotte de Boccard
Champlost - Le Dessous de Bailly
Kleine Feldhofer Grotte
Neumark Nord 1
Gouvia – Tzavrou
Mount Circeo - Grotta Guattari
Sedia del Diavolo
Monte delle Gioie
Casal de' Pazzi
Grotta di Fumane
Altamura - Lamalunga Cave
Arma delle Manie
Caverna delle Fate
Sint Geertruid de Kaap
Abrigo do Lagar Velho
Gruta da Oliveira
Gruta Nova da Columbeira
Gruta da Figueira Brava
Gruta de Salemas
Cueva de los Aviones
Cueva de los Aviones
Roca dels Bous Rockshelter
Cova Gran rock shelter
Cova de l’Estret de Trago
Cueva de la Peña del Cuco
La Cueva de Valdegoba
Cueva del Angel
Cueva de El Castillo
Tossal de la Font
Cueva de los Casares
Cuevas de Valdegoba
Cueva del Trader de Cubelles
Cueva del Gigante
Cueva de Mollet
Cueva de la Carihuela
La Cueva de Covalejos
Sima De Las Palomas
Cova de les Teixoneres
Cova del Toll
Cueva de la Güelga
Cueva del Boquete de Zafarraya
Calvero de la Higuera
Cueva de los Moros
Finca Doña Martina
Abrigo de La Boja
Cueva de El Esquilleu
Cueva del Otero
Cueva de Amalda
La Blanca (Murcia)
La Blanca (Oña)
Atapuerca - Galería de las Estatuas
Cova da Valiña
Grotte de Cotencher
Saturday, 20 July 2019
Monday, 8 April 2019
I know news of this discovery has been around for a while but I missed it until a report on the 88th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists came to my attention.
Parietal fragments, discovered back in 2016 were, at last, confirmed by DNA analysis to be that of a Denisovan. These were the subject of a Podium presentation. Here's the abstract from the conference:
A parietal fragment from Denisova cave (see here) Viola, B.T. et al. (2019)
The Denisovans are an Asian sister group of Neanderthals, originally described based on ancient DNA from a phalanx fragment from Denisova Cave (Altai Mountains, Russian Federation). Since then, three teeth found in the cave have been identified from this group. Genetic data indicates that this population contributed genes to modern humans across large parts of Asia and in Melanesia, but currently, no fossils from outside Denisova Cave have been clearly attributed to Denisovans. One reason for this is that the extremely limited morphological evidence hampers comparisons. A newly discovered parietal fragment, Denisova 13, attributed to the Denisovans based on its mtDNA, gives us a first glimpse at the Denisovan cranial morphology.
Denisova 13 derives from the South Gallery of Denisova cave, although due to a collapse of the section, its stratigraphic position is not secure. Based on its preservation and the accompanying sediments we tentatively attribute it to Layer 22.The specimen consists of two adjoining fragments of the posterior half of the left parietal, extending about 78 mm laterally of lambda, and about 51 mm anteriorly, preserving portions of both the sagittal and lambdoid sutures.
We compare Denisova 13 to a large sample of recent and fossil modern humans, Neanderthals and Middle Pleistocene Homo, using geometric morphometrics based on three-dimensional landmarks and sliding semilandmarks collected on computed-tomographic scans and surface scans.
We will discuss the implications of these comparisons to our understanding of Middle and Late Pleistocene hominins in Asia.
At a press conference Viola is quoted by the Science Alert (2019), as saying: "It's very nice that we finally have fragments like this," says Viola. "It's not a full skull, but it's a piece of a skull. It gives us more. Compared to the finger and the teeth, it's nice to have." But, he adds, it's hardly a full skeleton.
"We're always greedy," he laughs. "We want more."
A report by Science News (2019) gave a little more detail: "Viola, of the University of Toronto, and his colleagues compared a digital reconstruction of the skull fragment with corresponding parts of 112 present-day human skulls and 30 Stone Age Homo skulls, including Homo sapiens and Neandertals. The Denisovan find didn’t fit neatly into any previously known Homo species. Some features linked the Denisovan fossil to Neandertals and to a 430,000-year old Spanish Homo species that had Denisovan ancestry. The Denisovan skull fragment is surprisingly thick, more like cranial bones of Stone Age Homo erectus, Viola said."
Scientist at Denisova Cave. Second left Katherina Douka of the Max Planck Institute, part of the team that successfully extracted DNA from the parietal fragments. From NY Times (2019).
Science News (2019). "The first known fossil of a Denisovan skull has been found in a Siberian cave" at https://www.sciencenews.org/article/first-fossil-denisovan-skull-cave-siberia accessed 09.04.19
Science Alert (2019). "Scientists Just Confirmed The Discovery of The First Ever Denisovan Skull Fragments" at: https://www.sciencealert.com/first-confirmed-denisovan-skull-piece-found accessed 09.04.19
New York Times (2019). "High Ceilings and a Lovely View: Denisova Cave Was Home to a Lost Branch of Humanity” at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/science/neanderthals-denisovans-humans.html accessed 09.04.19