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New Study Tracks Denisovan DNA in Southeast Asian Islands

Friday, August 13, 2021

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—Science News reports that evolutionary geneticists Maximilian Larena and Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University compared ancient DNA from Denisovans and Neanderthals with present-day genetic samples collected from more than 1,000 individuals, including Papua New Guinea highlanders, Indigenous Australians, and those from 118 ethnic groups in the Philippines. The scientists determined that the Ayta Magbukon people of the Philippines inherited about five percent of their DNA from Denisovans. Some 50,000 years ago, modern humans are thought to have arrived in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania, where they mixed with Denisovans, who are thought to have arrived in the region some 200,000 years ago, based upon stone tools discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. “It’s unclear how the different Denisovan groups on the mainland and on Southeast Asian islands were related [to each other] and how genetically diverse they were,” Jakobsson said. The study also found that living Papua New Guinea highlanders, previously thought to carry the largest percentage of Denisovan ancestry, inherited about four percent of their DNA from Denisovans, or about 30 to 40 percent less than the Ayta Magbukon. For more on reconstructing the Denisovan genome, go to "Denisovan DNA."

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