Experts reveal that three Denisovans’ and one Neanderthal’s remains dating back to 200,000 years were found in a Siberian cave.

The newly-found fossils were uncovered from the famous Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains, southern Siberia, surrounded by archaeological remains such as stone tools and fossilised food waste.  

Neanderthals are a human relative who lived between 400,000 and 40,000 years ago in Europe, Western Asia.

The Denisovans are an additional group of ancient humans that lived in Asia approximately 80,000 years ago. These people were not closely related to Neanderthals.

New Denisovan bones, dating back to over 200,000 years old, are among the most ancient human fossils ever genetically sequenced. 

It raises the question of whether archaic human beings lived in the area, given that both Neanderthals’ and Denisovans’ remains were discovered together.  

Bone fragments taken from the cave that were used for molecular analysis. The analysis revealed three bone fragments as Denisovan and one as Neanderthal

The cave contained bone fragments that could be used to perform molecular analyses. An analysis of three bones fragments from the cave revealed that one belonged to Neanderthal and two were Denisovan.


Neanderthals, an archaic human species that lived from approximately 400,000 years ago to their extermination around 40,000 years later in Europe and Western Asia were extremely early humans. 

Denisovans were another group of ancient humans that lived in Asia, and are distantly related to Neanderthals.

Scientists have found very few fossils that could be used to provide information about Denisovans.

It is currently being studied how modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans can be related. 

Research has revealed that humans and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor for some time, and they were able to have children (interbreed). 

This has led to a large number of people who are living today inheriting a little genetic material that comes from distant ancestors. 

Source: National Institutes of Health 

It’s already known that Denisovans diverged from Neanderthals. The DNA of early human ancestors is also preserved today because both bred with them around 50,000 year ago.

The new findings are detailed in Nature Ecology and Evolution by an international team, led by researchers from the Universities of Vienna and Tübingen, and the Max Planck Society in Munich, Germany.

In all, five hominin bones were found in the cave, including four that had enough DNA for mitochondrial analysis and identification – three as Denisovan and one as Neanderthal.

“Finding one human bone new would be cool. But five?” This exceeded my wildest dreams,’ said study author Samantha Brown at the University of Tübingen. 

Brown explained that Denisovans represent one of the most recent ancestors. However, USA Today still has very limited information about them. 

Denisovans are thought to have appeared at the site during an interglacial – a warm period during which the environment and temperatures were similar to today. 

The settlers had an “fully-fledged, lithic tradition”, using the raw material from the Anui River’s alluvium, hunting herbivores like bison, roe, red deer, gazelle, saiga, and woolly rhinoceros.  

Around 130,000 to 150,000 years ago, Neanderthals also appeared at the site, represented by the one newly-discovered Neanderthal fossil.

The remains were discovered at the Denisova Cave (entrance pictured here) in the Altai Mountains, southern Siberia

These remains were found in southern Siberia’s Denisova Cave. (Entrance shown here).

Denisova Cave rose to fame 11 years ago, when genetic sequencing of a fossilised finger bone revealed a new, previously unknown human group – named ‘Denisovans’ in honor of the site.


A 2021 study revealed that the Philippines has the highest Denisovan DNA of any country in modern times. 

Researchers in Sweden have found that the Philippine Negrito ethnic group known as the Ayta Magbukon have the highest level of Denisovan ancestry today.

People living on the Philippines’ Bataan Peninsula in Ayta Magbukon have more Denisovan DNA that the Papuan Highlanders. They were once known to be the current-day highest Denisovan ancestry. 

Learn more: Ayta Magbukons have the highest Denisovan DNA worldwide

It was difficult, however to identify any additional Denisovan remains in the cave. Human remains were scattered and it is hard to find among the hundreds of thousands animal bones. 

A team of researchers led by Katerina Douka, an anthropologist at the University of Vienna, worked for four years to analyze nearly 4,000 bones from Denisova Cave.   

The scientists used a biomolecular method known as peptide fingerprinting or ‘ZooMS’ – which uses collagen or other proteins preserved in archaeological artefacts to identify the species from which they derive.  

These methods were the only way scientists can find human remains in the site’s thousands of bones. 

Denisova Cave’s oldest layers were the focus of the team. They date back to around 200,000 years ago. 

Brown analysed 3800 bones fragments less than 1.5 inch in length, which were previously considered ‘taxonomically impossible to identify’.

She did however find five bones that had collagen profiles similar to those of the human body. 

Douka said, “We were amazed to discover new bone fragments made from human bones that preserve intact biomolecules.   

The research at Denisova Cave is continuing through fieldwork, targeted analyses of bone and sediments by a Russian archaeologist team that has camped there almost six months each.  

Excavations in the eastern chamber of Denisova Cave. The cave rose to fame 11 years ago, when genetic sequencing of a fossilised finger bone revealed a new, previously unknown human group - the Denisovans

Excavations have been made in Denisova Cave’s eastern chamber. The cave rose to fame 11 years ago, when genetic sequencing of a fossilised finger bone revealed a new, previously unknown human group – the Denisovans

Denisova Cave, the most recent discovery, is still the only one that provides evidence for the regular presence of all three hominin major groups, Denisovans and Neanderthals in the last 200 years.              

Earlier this year, scientists reported that DNA discovered in Denisova Cave suggests early modern humans lived alongside Denisovans and Neanderthals at least 44,000 years ago. 

Last October, another team reported the discovery of Denisovan DNA in the Baishiya Karst Cave in Tibet.  

This was the first discovery of Denisovan DNA from an area other than Denisova Cave in Siberia.  

Researchers discovered DNA that belonged to an unidentified ancient ancestor of human beings that had bred with Denisovans back in August 2020.  


They were who?

Denisovans were an extinct form of human which appears to have existed in Siberia, and possibly even as far down as southeast Asia.

These individuals were part of a distinct genetic group that was distantly related both to Neanderthals and even further back to us. 

While remains of this mysterious group have been found mostly in Siberia’s Denisova Cave within the Altai Mountains, Siberia; DNA analysis revealed they were also widespread in Asia. 

Scientists were able analyse the DNA of a tooth as well as a finger bone found in Denisova Cave in Siberia.

This discovery has been described as “nothing less than sensational.” 

In 2020, scientists reported Denisovan DNA in the Baishiya Karst Cave in Tibet.

This was the first discovery of Denisovan genetic material from outside Denisova Cave. 

They were so widespread!

Scientists are starting to uncover how important they were in shaping our past. 

The genomes of many modern humans have been found to contain DNA from early humans. This suggests that they used to cover a large area in Asia.

It is believed that they were a sister specie of the Neanderthals. They lived in Europe and Western Asia at the same time.

They appear to have split off from a common ancestral around 200 000 years ago. However, they separated around 600,000.

Researchers even said last year they may have been first to Australia.

Aboriginal Australians contain Neanderthal DNA as well as Denisovan DNA.

The Aboriginal population has a higher percentage of this genetic trait than other populations.

 What were their achievements?

In the Denisova Cave, bone and ivory beads were also found. These sediment layers are similar to the Denisovan fossils. It is possible that these people had advanced tools or jewellery.

Professor Chris Stringer is an anthropologist from the Natural History Museum of London. He said that layer 11 had a Denisovan-style fingerbone at the bottom. However, the girl worked bone artifacts and ivory higher up. It suggests that Denisovans may have been able to make the kinds of tools usually associated with modern humankind.

“However, the Oxford Radiocarbon Unit’s direct dating of the Denisovan fossil suggests it is older than 50,000 years, and the oldest advanced artifacts, which are approximately 45,000 years, match the date for modern Siberian humans.

They bred with other species.

Yes. Today, around 5 per cent of the DNA of some Australasians – particularly people from Papua New Guinea – is Denisovans.

Two distinct human genomes have been identified by researchers. One is from Oceania, the other one comes from East Asia. They both share a distinct Denisovan heritage.

These genomes also differ, suggesting that there was at least one wave of prehistoric mixing between 200,000-50,000 years ago.

Researchers already know that people who live today in South Pacific islands have Denisovan heritage.

What they didn’t expect was that East Asians would have an entirely different kind of skin.