The 88th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2019)


Age estimates for hominin fossils and the onset of the Upper Palaeolithic at Denisova Cave

THOMAS HIGHAM1, KATERINA DOUKA2, VIVIANE SLON2, ZENOBIA JACOBS4, CHRISTOPHER RAMSEY1, FABRIZIO MAFESSONI3, MAXIM KOZLIKIN7, BO LI5, DANIEL COMESKEY1, THIBAUT DEVIESE1, SAMANTHA BROWN2, BENCE VIOLA6, MICHAEL BUCKLEY5, MATTHIAS MEYER3, RICHARD ROBERTS4, SVANTE PAABO3, ANATOLY DEREVIANKO7, MICHAEL SHUNKOV7 and JANET KELSO3.

1Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Oxford University, 2Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, 3Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, 4Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, 5Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, University of Manchester, 6Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, 7Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch, Novosibirsk

March 28, 2019 9:00, CC Ballroom A Add to calendar

Denisova Cave is a key site in understanding the complex relationships between hominin groups inhabiting Eurasia over the last 300,000 years. DNA evidence has shown the presence of a hitherto unknown hominin: the “Denisovans”. High coverage genomes from Neanderthal and Denisovan fossils found at the cave provide evidence for mixture between the two groups. Determining the age of these fossils is important if we are to understand the nature of hominin interaction, as well as aspects of their cultural and subsistence adaptation. We obtained 50 new radiocarbon dates from the site covering the end of the Middle and start of the Upper Palaeolithic periods.

We used a Bayesian age modelling approach combining chronometric (radiocarbon and optical ages), stratigraphic and genetic (separation times estimated from deeply-sequenced genomes) data. Our age estimates provide robust estimates for fossils in the site. Between ~140–110000 years ago both Neanderthals and Denisovans overlapped. Denisova 11, the direct offspring of a Denisovan and a Neanderthal, falls just after this interval, ~110-90000 years ago. The Denisova 3 phalanx predates the radiocarbon limit at 56,400–67,600 years ago. Dates of pierced tooth ornaments and bone points from the upper layers yielded the earliest evidence for the production of such artefacts in Eurasia, at c. 48–45,000 years ago. Based on present archaeological evidence, these artefacts may have been produced by Denisovan people. Whether anatomically modern humans (AMH) were involved is not possible to determine at present because their remains have not yet been identified in the Altai region.

This research was funded by the European Research Council, The Max Planck Society, the Russian Science Foundation and the Royal Society.