Researchers have now uncovered the DNA of a previously unknown group of hominids.Most everyone knows that the islands of the South Pacific are some of the most remote and unique places on Earth, but a new study reveals just how unique they really are. Islanders in the Pacific Ocean may be carrying traces of a long lost human species locked up in their DNA.
Today, modern humans inherit a small chunk of our genes from Neanderthals, with evidence that some of us carry the genetic remnants of a lesser known sister group, called the Denisovans. But genetic analysis of people living in modern Melanesia suggests they carry traces of a third, as yet unidentified prehistoric relative distinct from the others.
According to a report from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, researchers have found traces of a previously unknown extinct hominid species in the DNA of the Melanesians Islanders, a group living in an area northeast of Australia that encompasses Papua New Guinea and the surrounding islands.
A computer analysis suggests that the unidentified ancestral hominid species found in Melanesian Islanders DNA is unlikely to be either Neanderthal or Denisovan, the two known predecessors of humankind to this point.
Archaeologists have found many Neanderthal fossils in Europe and Asia, and although the only Denisovan DNA comes from a finger bone and a couple of teeth discovered in a Siberian cave, both species are well represented in the fossil record.
But now genetic modeling of the Melanesians has revealed a third, different human ancestor that may be an extinct, distinct cousin of the Neanderthals.
SCIENCE NEWS ABOUT ISLANDERS
“We’re missing a population, or we’re misunderstanding something about the relationships,” researcher Ryan Bohlender told Science News. “Human history is a lot more complicated than we thought it was.”