Fri, Feb 01, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Primitive human species could have been early jewelers

AFP, PARIS

A rare species of primitive human roamed the forests of Eurasia 200,000 years ago and could have made tools and even jewelry, according to new research published on Wednesday.

Denisovans — a cousin of Neanderthals — were discovered in 2010 when scientists working in a cave in southern Siberia obtained a finger bone of a girl belonging to a previously unidentified group of humans.

As they have so far only been located at the Denisova Cave, far less is known about them than their more famous relatives Neanderthals.

In dual papers published in the journal Nature, two international teams of scientists say that Denisovans inhabited the cave as far back as 200,000 years ago. To arrive at that conclusion they needed to overcome several hurdles that make dating prototypical man especially tricky.

“The big challenge is that the human remains themselves are microscopic — the biggest one is 2cm high and they are really difficult to date, because they all fall either just at or beyond the reach of radiocarbon dating,” Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit director Tom Higham said.

Carbon dating, which uses the half-life of radioactive carbon isotopes to show the age of organic matter, is only reliable on specimens up to about 50,000 years old.

Higham and the team unearthed several previously undiscovered bone fragments and managed to obtain a DNA sample from one of them. They then used a mathematical model comprised of available carbon data, as well as sediment dating, genomic mutation rates and archeological information to determine with high certainty when the Denisovans inhabited their eponymous dwelling.

“Two hundred thousand years ago, maybe older up until about 50,000 when Denisovans disappear from the site,” Higham said.

As well as human remains, researchers found perforated animal teeth possibly used as necklaces, bone tools, ostrich shell beads and stone-worked bracelets — all artefacts previously only associated with modern humans and, more recently, Neanderthals.

In the absence of any other hominim remains in the areas of the cave where the objects were found, Higham said “the most likely explanation” is that they were the work of Denisovans.

“The earliest [objects] date back to 49,000 years ago, which is the earliest evidence we have of this type of behavior in northern Eurasia, if not the entire Eurasian continent,” he said. “The evidence suggests that the most likely explanation is that Denisovans [were] making them.”

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