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Snow leopards had been among the many animals hunted by Denisovans

Klaus Honal / Alamy

Historic people often known as Denisovans hunted a variety of animals on the Tibetan plateau, together with blue sheep, yaks and snow leopards. This diversified food plan enabled them to thrive within the high-altitude area for tens of hundreds of years earlier than the arrival of recent people.

“Denisovans had been behaviourally fairly versatile,” says Frido Welker on the College of Copenhagen in Denmark. “They’re capable of actually adapt to the native setting and the species which might be current there.”

The Denisovans are one of the mysterious teams of hominins with which we as soon as shared the planet. They had been first described in 2010, based mostly on DNA extracted from a fraction of finger bone present in Denisova cave within the Altai mountains, Russia. It was the primary time a hominin group had been recognized solely based mostly on DNA.

It’s probably that Denisovans had been as soon as widespread in southern Asia as a result of immediately many individuals in southern Asia and South-East Asia carry Denisovan DNA, indicating that Denisovans interbred with Homo sapiens tens of hundreds of years in the past. Nonetheless, Denisova cave has solely yielded tooth and different fragments. In consequence, we don’t know a lot about what Denisovans appeared like.

In 2019, researchers together with Welker described a jawbone from Baishiya Karst collapse Xiahe within the north-east Tibetan plateau dated to 160,000 years in the past. Protein from one of many tooth was recognized as Denisovan.

The next yr, one other group discovered Denisovan DNA in the sediments of the cave. The DNA was variously 100,000, 60,000 and probably 45,000 years previous – implying that Denisovans lived there for over 100,000 years.

The Tibetan plateau is 4000 metres above sea stage. The air is skinny and it’s chilly and dry, making it a difficult place to stay. To learn how the Denisovans survived for therefore lengthy, Welker and his colleagues studied the animal bones from Baishiya Karst cave. By wanting on the shapes of the bones and extracting telltale proteins, they recognized 2005 out of 2567 bones or bone fragments.

Essentially the most quite a few animals had been blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), or bharal. They and different sheep and goat family “make up round half of the assemblage”, says Welker. Different medium-sized plant-eaters included wild yak, Tibetan gazelles and pink deer. There have been additionally small animals like groove-toothed flying squirrels and porcupines. What’s extra, there have been some massive carnivores, together with noticed hyenas, wolves and snow leopards, plus some birds equivalent to golden eagles.

Many of the bones appear to have been introduced in by Denisovans: 19 per cent had clear proof of this, equivalent to reduce marks made by stone instruments, and fewer than 1 per cent confirmed indicators – equivalent to tooth marks – of being carried in by rodents or carnivores.

The setting of Baishiya Karst cave on the Tibetan plateau

Dongju Zhang’s group (Lanzhou College)

“This may be the second website the place we will be completely sure that there are Denisovans current and that the related assemblages particularly signify their behaviours,” says Samantha Brown on the College of Tübingen in Germany.

Different websites on the Tibetan plateau have stone instruments however no hominin stays, so we don’t know who lived there. Additional afield, a single molar tooth described in 2022 from Tam Ngu Hao 2 limestone collapse Laos has been tentatively identified as Denisovan.

We will’t draw too many inferences about Denisovans’ capabilities based mostly on so few websites, says Brown. “Nonetheless, we count on that Denisovans would as soon as have been discovered as far north as Siberia and probably as far south as [the islands of] South-East Asia. It could possibly be that, as we discover extra of their websites, we actually start to see that Denisovans had been extremely adaptable.”

One of many bones from Baishiya Karst cave, a bit of rib, turned out to be one other Denisovan. It was present in a layer of sediments dated to between 48,000 and 32,000 years in the past – making it the youngest recognized Denisovan specimen. Welker says stone tools from Nwya Devu on the plateau are proof that trendy people had been additionally residing there by 40,000 years in the past – hinting that Denisovans and trendy people co-existed within the space.

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