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So who made these amazing ancient artefacts - prehistoric Homo sapiens or Denisovans?

By Anna Liesowska
19 July 2021

Leading Russian scientist remains unshaken in view that it was Denisovans despite growing doubts from Western experts.

'The bracelet (unearthed in 2008) is stunning - in bright sunlight it reflects the sun rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green,' said Anatoly Derevyanko, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences 

Scientific advances about Siberia’s remarkable Denisova cave are coming thick and fast; it is now clear that the mitochondrial DNA of modern humans appeared in this ancient habitat around 45,000 years ago.

The cave in the Altai region is so far the best-known home anywhere in the world of the Denisovans, an extinct early human branch, with Neanderthal traces here, too.

The presence of Home sapiens, indicated in a recent paper by Dr Elena Zavala, an evolutionary anthropology expert from the Max Planck Institute, has triggered a fresh look at claims as to who were the makers of extraordinary ancient artefacts - including jewellery - found in the cave. 

treasures of the Denisova cave


treasures of the Denisova cave


treasures of the Denisova cave

The Denisova Cave bracelet, believed to be the world's oldest stone bracelet, was made of green chlorite. Pictures: Anastasia Abdulmanova, The Siberian Times

These stunning pictures highlight some of the Denisova collection: a bracelet of green-hued chlorite, bead jewellery made from ostrich eggs, and a bone needle - still usable today, the oldest of its kind in the world.

Here too was found a 50,000-year-old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory, evidently designed for a big-headed male.

Russian experts had earlier postulated that these items were likely the work of Denisovans, since there was previously no evidence of Homo sapiens at the time when they were likely manufactured. 

At first sight, the paper by Dr Zavala suggests the case is now altered.

It heightens doubts already expressed by Western scientists over the theory that Denisovans were remarkable ancient designers and manufacturers of, for example, the bracelet which has been dated to between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Denisova Cave treasures

Denisova Cave treasures

Denisova Cave treasures  

Denisova Cave treasures

Denisova Cave treasures
Treasures of The Denisova Cave: the bone needle made some 50,000 years ago and still sharp enough to sew, the cave lion figurine made of woolly mammoth tusk, carved 45,000 years ago; beads  from ostrich shell, the crayon, the mammoth bone tiara. Pictures: The Siberian Times


The paper states: ‘We cannot discount the possibility that — in addition to modern humans — Denisovans and Neanderthals may have been present during the period of Initial Upper Palaeolithic production.’

She posted on Twitter: ‘Ancient modern human mtDNA was detected at the same time that the jewellery, pendants, and other Initial Upper Palaeolithic artefacts appeared. This is the first genetic evidence of ancient modern humans in the cave.’ 

In 2019 a research team headed by Dr Katerina Douka, an archaeological scientist also from the Max Planck Institute, had expressed doubts that the sophisticated Upper Palaeolithic items could be the work of the Denisovans. 

'It is parsimonious at present to suggest that the makers of these artefacts may have been Denisovans,' she said.

‘Future discovery of fossils from this site and others, and determination of their ages and genomes using a combination of methods, will shed further light on the relationships between archaic and modern humans and their associated material cultures.’

Denisova Cave


Denisova Cave


Denisova Cave


Denisova Cave
Team of Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography pictured working at the Denisova Cave in the Altai region. Pictures: The Siberian Times


Yet Dr Mikhail Shunkov from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, part of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, who leads the cave’a excavations, still has no doubts that the Upper Palaeolithic assemblage was by the Denisovans. 

'Despite the mtDNA of modern humans being found in the cave, we still believe that it was Denisovans who produced these items,’ he said.

He said ‘the history is not as straightforward as we would like to think, it is a complicated process and we cannot make unequivocal conclusions’, stressing that the industry producing these items ‘has its roots in more ancient layers, between 55,000 and 45,000 years old, which are definitely Denisovan'.

The evidence on Homo sapiens is that they came to the cave ‘not earlier than 45,000 years ago', Dr Shunkov said. ‘Besides, we found mtDNA of Homo sapiens only in deposits, while we have Denisovan bone in the same layer.’

‘Of course modern humans most likely contributed to this culture, but its basis was Denisovan. 

‘They contributed, but we can not even say what exactly they brought in, what is the share of their impact, at least so far.’

Denisova Cave
The Denisova Cave. Picture: The Siberian Times 


Dr Shunkov stressed that Denisova Cave ‘is the only site where all three hominid populations co-existed and influenced each other, not only culturally, but also biologically.

‘For example in more ancient layers we see the interaction between Denisovan and Neanderthal for quite a long period, both cultural and biological. 

‘Probably something similar was going on between Denisovans and modern humans.’

Other Denisova Cave's items are a Cave Lion figurine, a marble ring, numerous pendants made of bone, teeth, ivory and gemstones, beads of bone, ivory and ostrich egg shell, as well as an ivory button.

Comments (4)

There was also a débate when the stunning rock drawings/paintings were been found.in the "Grotte Chauvet" in France.(Ardèche)..Les progrès artistiques ne semblent pas forcément linéaires .
Jocelyne, FRANCE
06/08/2021 20:24
1
0
Cannibal sapiens ate Deny?
姚剑申, 巨鹿/中国
22/07/2021 09:20
4
4
We will find a distinct Northern ancestor, as the Tundra melts,. This will yield new impetus to the the Nostratic question.
DLF
Frischknecht.Dieter, Switzerland
20/07/2021 10:16
5
2
The pre humans were found in a cave. These beings are called ‘Denisovans’.
Biehl Inge, U.S.A.
20/07/2021 02:00
1
1
1

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