The elusive hominids known as Denisovans have puzzled archaeologists since the discovery of a tooth in a cave in Siberia in 2010 along with a pinky bone. But the news that the Denisovans mystery was uncovered with the help of a giant tooth fossil is slowly starting to shed light on our mysterious cousins.
The Denisovans, named after the cave in which the first fossils were discovered, the Denisova cave in Siberia, were likely living alongside the Neanderthals and our ancestors, the Homo sapiens, roughly 60 million years ago.
Even though the discovery of the fossils was made in 2010, it took until now for the DNA tests to be conclusive, due to the possible human contamination and even ancient hyena contamination, animal which had its hunting grounds in the Altai Mountains of Russia, where the cave is located. Because of the increased size of the tooth, roughly three times larger than a normal tooth, scientists have concluded that the Denisovans sported massive mandibles. This further differentiates this specie from the Neanderthals, making them a sort of cousins in relation to us.
Two teeth fossils were found in the Denisova cave, but the owners of these chompers lived 10 million years apart, pointing out that Denisovans stuck with us for a pretty hefty period of time.
This new discovery points out that prehistoric times may have been a lot different to how we imagine them today, with a small group of hominids living away their lives in caves. A more plausible picture would be if we compare it to fantasy stories like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings, with several folk living on the same patch of land. Just like humans lived alongside orcs and elves, we might have shared the same fate, living with Neanderthals and Denisovans.
DNA tests further indicate that all three of these species have originated from a singular point, making researchers scratch their heads even more as they attempt to find the missing link that connects us to our even older ancestors, further down the evolutionary tree. Denisovans had a much larger diversity inside their midst when compared to their close relatives, the Neanderthals, but still not as high as ours.
The location of these fossils may have been cause from the fear of Homo sapiens, who hunted Neanderthals and most likely Denisovans as well in order to prove who is on top of the food chain.
Even though the Denisovans mystery was uncovered with the help of a giant tooth fossil, it still brings up the question of how many near or distant human relatives lived during that period.