Denisovans in NW China listed in the world's top 10 archaeological discoveries

The archaeological discovery about Denisovans, a member of the hominin species found in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau of northwestern China, was listed by U.S. magazine Archaeology as one of the world's top 10 archaeological discoveries in 2019.

It is the only Paleolithic archaeological discovery and the only one from China among the 10.

According to an online publication of Nature magazine on May 2, the ancient human jawbone fossil discovered in Baishiya Karst Cave in Xiahe County, Gansu Province, dated to more than 160,000 years ago, is the first Denisovan specimen found outside the Denisova cave in Siberia.

It is also the earliest known human trace found here, which is more than 3,000 meters above sea level.

"The jawbone shows that Denisovans' geographical distribution was much wider and higher in altitude than we thought before," said Zhang Dongju, associate professor at the College of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lanzhou University. Denisova Cave is at a relatively low altitude – 700 meters.

A screenshot of the online publication of "Nature" magazine on May 2, 2019.

A screenshot of the online publication of "Nature" magazine on May 2, 2019.

The fossil is reportedly found by a monk in China in 1980 and passed on to Lanzhou University. Researchers from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou University, and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology led the study in the 2010s, with several domestic and overseas research institutes participating.

As there was no DNA left in the jawbone, which has half a lower jaw and two complete teeth, the researchers identified the ancient human solely through the analysis of proteins.

Researchers thought that Denisovans had a variant of a gene called EPAS1, which enabled them to live at high altitudes with low oxygen levels, and passed down to some modern Tibetans.

Archaeology is a bimonthly archaeological journal for the public sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America. It has a history of more than 70 years and currently has a readership of about 250,000 people worldwide. Since 2006, the magazine has selected the world's top ten archaeological discoveries in December each year.

(Cover image: A file photo of Baishiya in Xiahe County, Gansu Province. )