130,000-Year-Old Tooth Could Offer Clues to Extinct Human Species

Andrei Tapalaga

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Portrait of a Denisovan GirlMaayan Harel

The tooth of a child believed to be at least 130,000 years old was found in a Laos cave that was once inhabited by an extinct human species. The tooth is believed to have belonged to a girl from the Denisovan (Denisova hominins) species. 

This species although similar to Homo-sapiens and Neatherthals presented unique physical characteristics. This species is believed to have lived across Asia during the lower and Middle Paleolithic era

What is very interesting about this species compared to other ancient human species is that little to no evidence has been found. The first and most recent finding was a finger bone discovered in a cave in Siberian in 2010. At the time the finger bone was classified as originating from an unidentified group of humans. 

Another group of researchers discovered a jawbone in 2019 on the Tibetan Plateau. Using the finger bone and a wisdom tooth from the jaw found, they were able to extract an entire genome of the group and classify it to belong to this extinct species of humans from the DNA. 

This tooth that had been recently discovered is the third piece of evidence of this species. Fabrice Demeter, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, where the tooth is being analyzed mentioned that the tooth was clearly distinguishable from other ancient species that lived in the area. 

The researchers analyzed the tooth’s interior via different methods such as a 3D x-ray reconstruction as well as analyzing the proteins inside to identify the sex of the person to whom the tooth belonged. 

“The proteins allowed us to identify the sex — female — and confirm its relation to the Homo species,” (Quote by Fabrice Demeter)

Based on the similar characteristics present in the DNA of Neanderthals, experts believe that Denisovan was a distant cousin of the Neanderthals. The Two species are thought to have separated around 350,000 years ago

About a year ago, a study was done on an Indigenous Filipino group who presented a high proportion of their DNA to be similar to the Denisovan species. Meaning that some of these indigenous people could be Denisovan species or at least evolved from the Denisovan species. 

Phys.org says that this finding could be evidence of the last Denisovans who have interbred with modern humans and passed on their genetic heritage to Southeast Asia’s modern population. 

Experts within the field still need more evidence to gain precise insight into the origin of this species. 

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