New clue in human evolution mystery found in Philippines
- Researchers have found new evidence tracing Denisovan lineage to a Philippine tribe
- Ayta Magbukon, an ethnic Philippine group, has 5% Denisovan lineage
- Denisovans were among early humans that interacted with Home Sapiens
The only definitive evidence of the existence of Denisovans — an enigmatic group of early humans — was found in 2010. Now, DNA evidence from the Philippines has traced the lineage of the Denisovans to an ethnic group known as Ayta Magbukon. The Ayta Magbukon has the highest known level of Denisovan ancestry in the world, reports CNN.
Fossilized fragments that proved the existence of Denisovans were first found in the Denisova cave in the foothills of Siberia’s Altai mountains. The new evidence comes from 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometres away) in the Philippines.
Denisovan DNA continues to live on in some humans till date because Homo Sapiens interacted with the Denisovans and gave birth to children, in a phenomenon many geneticists call “admixture”.
This “admixing” is said to have happened nearly 50,000 years ago after modern humans moved out of Africa and possibly crossed paths with both Denisovans and Neanderthals. However, the exact period of the interaction, especially with Denisovans, is difficult to ascertain.
The tracing of Denisovan ancestry to the Philippine Ayta Magbukon tribe has come as a surprise to scientists because the only Denisovan fossils have been mostly found in Siberia, with the potential exception of a jaw bone in the Tibetan plateau, however, genetic evidence ties Denisovan DNA to much farther south.
Researchers from Sweden and Philippines stumbled upon the findings while conducting a more generalised study on human history in the Philippines. The research involved studying the genetic makeup of 118 different groups in the country.
The research found that the Ayta Magubon tribe had nearly 5% Denisovan ancestry, more than Aboriginal Australians and Papuans, who previous research indicated have 4% Denisovan ancestry.
“If the results are accurate, then human colonisations of the Philippines and surrounding regions were even more complex than we thought up to now,” Chris Stringer, a professor at the The Natural History Museum in London, unconnected to the study, told CNN.