Tooth found in cave in Laos: Denisova man also lived in the tropics of Southeast Asia

To date, there are two places in the world where the early Denisova people lived: in Siberia and on the Tibetan Plateau.

Tooth found in cave in Laos: Denisova man also lived in the tropics of Southeast Asia

To date, there are two places in the world where the early Denisova people lived: in Siberia and on the Tibetan Plateau. Another location is now added to the map. In a cave in Laos, researchers find a tooth that they clearly identify.

Paleontologists have made a discovery in Laos that suggests Denisovans may have spread further than previously thought. It is a molar that researchers discovered in the Tam Ngu Hao 2 cave in the Anamit Mountains in Laos. Upon examining the tooth, it turned out that it probably belonged to a young Denisova girl.

The research group published their results in the journal "Nature Communications". Accordingly, they dated the tooth in the middle Pleistocene. It would be the first Denisova fossil ever discovered in Southeast Asia. "The tooth from Tam Ngu Hao 2 Cave in Laos thus provides direct evidence for a most likely female Denisovan individual with associated fauna in mainland Southeast Asia between 164,000 and 131,000 years ago," the team writes in the article.

The discovery is surprising because there are only two places in the world where Denisova deposits have been detected: Denisova Cave in Siberia and the Tibetan Plateau. But apparently a group of early humans who were closely related to the Neanderthals also lived in the cave in Laos.

An international team of scientists led by Laura Shackelford from the University of Illinois examined the molar, which appears to have come from the lower jaw of a hominin. The morphology of this tooth shows that it is the first or second lower molar of a child whose age was about 3.5 to 8.5 years. The researchers conclude, among other things, from the low surface wear of the tooth, which indicates that the child died before its adult teeth had fully formed.

"Teeth are like a little black box of individual life," quotes National Geographic, Clément Zanolli, a co-author of the study. In their shape, internal structure, chemistry and wear patterns, teeth can retain clues about the age, diet and even the climate of an animal's habitat, according to the paleoanthropologist at France's University of Bordeaux. No peptide was found in the enamel that would allow a reliable assignment to a specific early human. However, the protein sequences showed that the sample actually belonged to an individual of the genus Homo, which appeared to be female. An analysis of the internal and external structure of the molar then showed that the similarities to Denisovan finds were greater than to Neanderthal finds.

According to the scientists, the discovery also confirms that "this region was a hotspot of diversity for the genus Homo of the late middle to late Pleistocene". In addition to Denisova man, there was already evidence of Homo erectus, Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis and Homo sapiens. Shackleford believes that the Denisovans were more widespread than previously thought, despite the relatively few finds so far. The new fossil shows this further distribution, but also the adaptability of this branch of humans. "They lived in the frigid arctic temperatures of Siberia, in the cold, [oxygen-poor] environment of the Tibetan plateau, and now we know they lived in the tropics of Southeast Asia as well."


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