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

Archaic encounters: Retracing interactions between Neandertals and Denisovans


Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

March 28, 2019 9:30, CC Ballroom A Add to calendar

Denisovans and Neandertals separated from each other at least 390,000 years ago. Skeletal remains of individuals from both groups have been discovered at Denisova Cave (Russia). To date, nuclear DNA has been retrieved from five of these individuals – four Denisovans and one Neandertal. Traces of Neandertal DNA in the genome of one of the Denisovans demonstrated that Neandertals and Denisovans admixed at least once in the past.

Denisova 11” is an additional individual from Denisova Cave, represented by a single bone fragment identified using collagen fingerprinting, whose genome has now been sequenced. This individual had both Neandertal and Denisovan ancestry, in nearly equal extents. To explore this signal of mixed ancestry, comparisons between the distribution of Neandertal-like and Denisovan-like genetic variants across her genome, and theoretical expectations under different genealogical scenarios, were carried out. These indicated that she was the daughter of a Neandertal mother and a Denisovan father, and that her Denisovan father had at least one distant Neandertal ancestor.

The genome of Denisova 11 provides direct evidence for multiple admixture events between Neandertals and Denisovans, occurring ~300,000 years after the separation of the two groups. Added to previous evidence for admixture between Denisovans and early modern humans, and between Neandertals and early modern humans, this suggests that individuals from different Late Pleistocene hominin groups mixed often when they encountered one another.

The Max Planck Society; the Max Planck Foundation (grant 31-12LMP Pääbo); the European Research Council (grant agreements No. 694707, 324139 and 715069); and the Russian Science Foundation (project No. 14-50-00036).