Her mother was Neanderthal, her father something else entirely

Her mother was Neanderthal, her father something else entirely

Nicknamed by Oxford University scientists, Denisova 11 - her official name - was at least 13 when she died, for reasons unknown.

"We knew from previous studies that Neandertals and Denisovans must have occasionally had children together", said Viviane Slon, one of the three authors of the study.

"I never thought we'd be so lucky as to find an actual offspring from the two groups."
She is the first known hybrid of two different kinds of ancient humans; the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.

Modern humans lived in bigger, denser groups than Neanderthals or Denisovans, and they moved quickly across Europe and Asia.

Palaeogeneticists Viviane Slon and Svante Paabo at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology carried out genome analysis on a bone taken from the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Russian Federation. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Denisova 11, as the newly discovered bone fragment is called, offers compelling clues into our own evolutionary history.

It suggests while the two groups of humans may not have had many opportunities to meet, but when they did, they made the most of it.

Both groups disappeared some 40,000 years ago. "But I'm less convinced that it is necessarily a first-generation offspring of a union between Neanderthal and Denisovan".

During DNA sequencing of the bones discovered at the site, the researchers noticed that half of the chromosomes in Denisova 11 were similar to those of the other Denisovans and half of them were closer to those of the Neanderthals. Denisova 3 has also been found to carry a small percentage of Neanderthal ancestry. Only 24 early human genomes older than 40,000 years have been sequenced, meaning the chances of uncovering a half-and-half hybrid was virtually zero.

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The DNA of this girl - Denisova 11 - also suggests that there was some quite significant movement of Neanderthal groups between Western Europe and the East. Analysis of her DNA found that rather than being more closely related to a Neanderthal who lived in her home cave sometime prior to her birth, she instead showed more connections to those recovered in Western Europe.

We've only been genetically sequencing the remains of ancient human remains over the last decade.

90,000 years ago, a young girl lived in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia.

Most modern non-African humans have traces of Neanderthal DNA and some Asian populations have Denisovan DNA, showing that homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred.

"It is striking that we find this Neandertal/Denisovan child among the handful of ancient individuals whose genomes have been sequenced", added Svante Pääbo, Director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the MPI-EVA and lead author of the study. "But when they did, they must have mated frequently - much more so than we previously thought".

What we know about Neanderthals is plenty: They were short, stocky, had large noses (for European winters in the Ice Age), and larger bodies than modern humans. It is the fruit of a union that says a lot about our most remote past.

"There's always been some groups. who think that Denisovan people were just the eastern branch of Neanderthals, that they weren't a distinct species", he said.

It is also possible that hybrids suffered from reproductive disorders, having fewer children than humans without mixed DNA.

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