For the first time, Researchers have successfully sequenced the genome of ancient human fossils from the late Pleistocene in southern China.
The data, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests the mysterious hominid belonged to an extinct maternal branch of modern humans that could have contributed to the origin of Native Americans.
“The ancient DNA technique is a very powerful tool,” says Bing Su from the Kunming Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “It tells us quite definitively that the Red Deer cave dwellers were modern humans rather than an archaic species like Neanderthals or Denisovans, despite their unusual morphological characteristics.”
The researchers compared the genome of these fossils with that of people around the world. They discovered that the bones belonged to an individual with deep ties to Native American East Asian ancestry.
Combined with data from earlier research, this discovery led the team to propose that some of the Southeast Asian peoples had traveled north along the coast of present-day eastern China via Japan and reached Siberia. tens of thousands of years ago.
They then crossed the Bering Strait, between the continents of Asia and North America, and became the first people to reach the New World.
The path to this discovery began more than three decades ago, when a group of Chinese archaeologists discovered a large set of bones in Maludong, or Red Deer, cave in Yunnan province, south of country. Carbon dating showed that the fossils came from the Late Pleistocene, around 14,000 years ago, a time when modern humans had migrated to many parts of the world.
From the cave, researchers recovered a hominid skull with features of modern and archaic humans. For example, the shape of the skull resembled that of Neanderthals and their brains appeared to be smaller than those of modern humans.
As a result, some anthropologists had thought that the skull probably belonged to an unknown archaic human species that lived until quite a long time ago or to a hybrid population of archaic and modern humans.
In 2018, together with Xueping Ji, an archaeologist at the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology, Bing Su and his colleagues successfully extracted ancient DNA from the skull. Genomic sequencing shows that hominin belonged to an extinct maternal line of a group of modern humans whose surviving descendants are now found in East Asia, the Indochinese Peninsula and the islands of Southeast Asia. East.
The discovery also shows that during the Late Pleistocene, hominids living in southern East Asia had a rich genetic and morphological diversity, the degree of which is greater than that of northern East Asia. Is during the same period. This suggests that the first humans to arrive in East Asia first settled in the south before some of them moved north, Su said. “This is important evidence for understanding early human migration,” he says.
Now the team plans to sequence older human DNA using fossils from southern East Asia, particularly those that predate Red Deer Cave dwellers.
“These data will not only help us paint a more complete picture of how our ancestors migrated, but will also contain important information about how humans change their physical appearance by adapting to local environments over time. such as variations in skin color in response to changes in sun exposure,” concludes Su.