The Denisovans Were Living In Their Russian Cave 100,000 Years Earlier Than Scientists Had Previously Thought

The Denisovans once made their home in a luxurious Russian/Siberian cave that had sweeping views of the Anui River, and new research has indicated that the previous dating of the Denisova Cave where our human relatives lived was incorrect. Said research claims that the Denisovans actually arrived here 100,000 years earlier than scientists had previously estimated.

According to Science Magazine, new research indicates that the Denisova Cave was first occupied 287,000 years ago. Furthermore, once the Denisovans made the Siberian cave their home, they remained there — for the most part — up until approximately 55,000 years ago. This also happens to be around the same time that Neanderthals arrived.

With regards to new findings which suggest that the Denisovans were living in their cave 100,000 years earlier than previously thought, archaeologist Robin Dennell of the University of Sheffield explained, “The general picture is now clear.”

When scientists originally retrieved a young child’s pinkie bone from Denisova Cave, they were astonished to discover that they were dealing with an entirely new species of human. Researchers have been fascinated by the Denisovans ever since, trying their hardest to discover just when these people lived.

The older the fossils are, the more difficult they are to date. The margin for error increases dramatically with age, so archaeologists with the Russian Academy of Sciences brought in geochronologists Zenobia Jacobs and Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia, so that more reliable dating of the Denisova Cave could be obtained.

Jacobs and Roberts used new optical dating methods at the cave. Optical dating has the advantage of being able to analyze tiny grain-sized pieces of potassium feldspar or quartz embedded within sediment to determine when they last saw the sun. This process allows scientists to more accurately date the sediment.

After analyzing a whopping total of 280,000 grains in over 100 different fossil samples, scientists verified their accuracy by looking at radiocarbon dating that had been conducted by geochronologists Tom Higham and Katerina Douka from the University of Oxford. After this, scientists had a much better idea about the dates which belonged to the many layers of Denisova Cave.

Optical dating methods have demonstrated that the tools found in the cave had been left behind 287,000 year ago, which means that the Denisovans lived here a full 100,000 years before they were thought to have, previously. As Jacobs noted, the Denisovans were “evidently a hardy bunch.”

The new research which details the surprising discovery that Denisovans first occupied their Siberian cave 287,000 years ago has been published in two studies in Nature. A second Nature article is also available for perusal.