Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps
Are we partly non-human?
A reconstruction an archaic human, (possibly a late surviving Denisovan from around 11,000 years ago), found in a cave in Yunnan
A reconstruction an archaic human, (possibly a late surviving Denisovan from around 11,000 years ago), found in a cave in Yunnan

A map showing the spread of Neanderthal and Denisovan populations.
A map showing the spread of Neanderthal and Denisovan populations.

A recent festival in Papua New Guinea.
A recent festival in Papua New Guinea.

Are we partly non-human?

မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရန်

Ten years ago, scientists learned that a species of archaic humans lived in Asia until about 20,000 years ago. They are now known as the Denisovans. The DNA of Denisovans was extracted from their remains, found in a cave in Siberia. They are cousins of the Neanderthals, another archaic human species, who lived in Europe during the last Ice Age. They are very distant cousins of modern humans who emerged from Africa and entered Asia around 60,000 years ago.

Now scientists are able to compare Denisovan DNA with the DNA of human populations around the world. Some people in Asia have some Denisovan ancestry. A higher percentage (up to around 3%) is found in populations in Papua New Guinea and Melanesia.

Tibetans have significant Denisovan ancestry and because of this ancestry have inherited a unique gene that allows them to live at very high altitudes. The Burmese and Tibetan languages are closely related and the Burmese and Tibetans share at least some genetic ancestry.

A few years ago scientists discovered in a cave in Yunnan the remains of an archaic human species that lived only 11,000 years ago (the same time as the first farmers in Mesopotamia and India). It's possible the remains are of Denisovans though there is still no DNA evidence.

Very recently, it was discovered that Denisovan genes in Melanesian people may be important in responding to viral infections.

Europeans by contrast have little or no Denisovan ancestry but have some Neanderthal ancestry, which scientists believe have effects on their health and mental well-being.

No study has been done to see if populations in Myanmar have significant Denisovan ancestry. We may have the same genetic variants as the Tibetans, and so may have special adaptation to very high altitudes (which would be pretty useless now in Myanmar). Denisovan ancestry may also be having a significant impact on the immune systems of people in Myanmar as well.

Science will likely be able to tell us much more in the few years to come.

(References:

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature13408

https://www.sanger.ac.uk/news_item/denisovan-dna-influences-immune-system-of-modern-day-oceanian-populations/ )

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