The Denisova cave, Siberia (nsc.ru)
In the wake of recent news that a lot of us carry around Neanderthal genes, there's new evidence that a third species of modern human used to roam Eurasia. A couple small bones found in Russia's Denisova cave have mitochondrial DNA sequences that diverged from Neanderthals 640,000 years ago. Comparison to modern humans shows that Denisova people left a genetic legacy in the Melanesian people of Papua New Guinea - suggesting that they may have been a widespread population.
Where does that leave us? The big picture of recent decades—that modern humans evolved in Africa and spread from there, displacing all other populations—is still largely accurate. But the details are looking much more complex than they were just last year. Those other populations are suddenly seeming a lot more diverse, and they didn't go away without contributing a bit to the genetic diversity of the modern human population (Ars Technica).That leaves us a recent family tree that looks something like this:
The moral of the story? Sex. Modern humans got it on with Neanderthals and whatever other random types of humans they ran into on all those Palaeolithic wanderings across the steppes. Can we finally sweep the last remnants of racialist archaeology out the door now?!
Much more detailed analysis and updates at Discovery's The Loom blog.