Human evolution riddle: DNA find represents ‘previously unknown divergent human lineage’

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And author Adam Brumm also highlighted an intriguing link with the hominid, “cousin” of mankind about little is known save for a few fossil fragments. The report, published in the scientific journal Nature this week, offers clues about the process by which first came to be populated by human beings, said Mr Brumm of Griffith University in .

However, he said ultimately his research poses many more questions about the complexities of human evolution.

The research, representing the first ancient human genomic data from this region, sheds light on the peopling of the region.

Together with colleagues including Selina Carlhoff, Mr Brumm based his studies on a skeleton in the limestone cave of Leang Panninge in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, in a chain of islands known collectively as Wallacea.

Neanderthal Wallacea

Human evolutionary history – which includes our cousins the Neanderthals – is notoriously complex (Image: GETTY)

Wallacea

Fragmentary remains of the human skull (Image: University of Hasanuddin)

The young female was interred roughly 7,200 years ago in what is known as a Toalean burial complex.

DNA analysis from the petrous bone indicates she was part of a population group more closely related to modern day Near Oceanian populations than East Asian groups.

However, the genome represents a “previously unknown divergent human lineage, which is not found anywhere else in the world today”, the report adds.

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The excavation in the Leang Panninge cave

The excavation in the Leang Panninge cave (Image: Leang Panninge research project)

Toelean Wallacea

A view of the Toalean burial, showing the skeletal remains of an ancient Toalean woman (Image: University of Hasanuddin)

This ancient woman was a member of a modern human population with a unique ancestral profile

Adam Brumm

The study suggests the individual may have a local ancestry which had been present in Sulawesi from the arrival of modern humans – although whether this population produced the rock art found in the south of the island is unknown.

Mr Brumm told Express.co.uk: “This ancient woman was a member of a modern human population with a unique ancestral profile that is not found among people who are alive in the world today or those known from the ancient past.”

Asked how she had come to be living on South Sulawesi, he added: “Her ancestors were more than likely a part of the first wave of early modern humans to enter the Wallacean region from mainland Asia at least 50,000 years ago or more, and which ultimately resulted in the initial peopling of Australia (although it would seem that the direct ancestors of this woman did not make it as far as ancient Australia).”

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A serrated Maros Point associated with the Toalean culture

A serrated Maros Point associated with the Toalean culture (Image: Yinika Perston)

Ultimately, the individual’s ancestors would have come from “Africa, as with all members of our species”, said Mr Brumm.

However, he stressed: “Her lineage seems to represent an early union between the population that gave rise to present-day Aboriginal Australians and Papuans, and a separate and distinct group of early modern humans that came from somewhere in Asia, the presence of which had not previously been detected in the region. “

The Denisovans were an extinct species or subspecies of archaic human which ranged across Asia during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic period.

Map of Southeast Asia and South Sulawesi

Map of Southeast Asia and South Sulawesi (Image: Kim Newman)

Most of what scientists know about them is gleaned from DNA evidence, together with a few fossil fragments in Denisova Cave in the Atlai Mountains, hence the name, and Baishiya Karst Cave on the Tibetan Plateau in China.

Mr Brumm said: “She inherited about 2.2 percent of her DNA from Denisovans, so at some early point in time her ancestors met and interbred with those hominins – this could have even taken place in Sulawesi itself.”

He also made reference to the Lake Mungo remains, referring to an individual living in Australia an estimated 40,000 years ago – the earliest Homo sapiens remains so far found on the continent.

Excavations at Leang Panninge cave

Excavations at Leang Panninge cave (Image: Leang Panninge research project)

Toalean stone arrowheads (Maros points), backed microliths and bone tools

Toalean stone arrowheads (Maros points), backed microliths and bone tools (Image: Basran Burhan)

He explained: “It is possible this woman was a distant relation of the early Aboriginal ancestors who lived in the Mungo region – they probably all descended from the same original population.”

Ultimately, Mr Brumm pointed out, his study was as important the questions which it asked as for those which it answered.

He added: “It seems that every time we appear to answer a longstanding question about the early human story several more pop up in its place.

“But that’s what is so exciting about our deep past; it’s a very mysterious place.”

Roy Walsh

Roy Walsh

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