Everybody heard about the Neanderthals, and most of the people know how they looked like, but know it’s time to redirect our attention to other ancestors of today’s’ humans: the Denisovans, cousins of the Neanderthals which lived until about 50.000 years ago.
Starting from DNA sequences and knowing some features about the Denisovans, like lower jaw, three teeth and a pinky bone for each of them, a group of researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem led by Professor Liran Carmel managed to reconstruct their appearance.
Ancient human appearance is not as different as you might’ve expected
Actually, without any attention to offend anyone, it’s safe to assume that the Denisovans’ physiognomy resembles some of the humans from nowadays.
“It is challenging to start from DNA sequences and end up with an anatomical profile,” said the Professor Liran Carmel.
If it were that easy, police around the world would be pulling DNA from crime scenes and drawing up profiles of the suspects, he added.
The Denisovans were present in East Asia and were contemporaries with the well-known Neanderthals.
How the scientists remade the ancient human appearance
This significant achievement is the result of three years of hard work. First, scientists from Israel examined the patterns of chemical changes in the ancient DNA of Denisovans. Then they compared the results to those of the DNA of Neanderthals and modern man.
Knowing genes lose their functions for anatomical features, the researchers tried to figure out how this can turn out, spotting 56 differences between the Denisovans, the humans we encounter daily, and the Neanderthals. And the method is 85% reliable, according to Carmel.
The former existence of the Denisovans came to light ten years ago, when a finger bone was found in the Denisova cave from southern Siberia. Ironically, it was just a pinky bone which “reopened a whole new chapter in the evolution of man,” as Carmel said.