Mailbag: Denisovans of the North?

2 minute read

Re: Neandertals of the North.

Im a chemist but I keep a youth love for paleoanthropology and Im reading with pleasure your blog. Thank you for writing it. In the page Neandertals of the North Ive read about the hypothesis that, having found mousterian-style tools, the site was inhabited by Neandertals. I have a curiosity: Neandertals and Denisovans were cousins (more closely related than Neandertal and modern humans). What do we know about Denisovans lithic culture? Was it similar to Mousterian or very different? You wrote that many archaeologists concluded that Neandertals couldnt cope with the climate change (Heinrich VI event) and explained this way the last findings in southern Europe. Byzovaya seems against this tendency. Comparing the distribution area of Neandertal and Denisovans, the first ones lived in southern Europe and Middle East while the second ones lived in continental Asia. Denisova is in the very center of Eurasia: continental weather with deep freezing winters even nowadays with this favorable weather (I searched the weather forecast of today of Barnaul (just 150 Km from Denisova Cave) finding this night -25C/-13F) From a climatic point of view the Denisovan were the tough guys of the northern emisphereand they had no vodka to warm up their nights (!) About weather, the Heinrich effect causing a shift in the oceanic currents is very effective in Europe but, as far as you go in inner Eurasia (continental weather), the lower is its effect. (or I imagine so, maybe Im wrong) Could be that the lithic culture of Denisovan were very similar to Neandertal culture and that the Byzovaya findings are Denisovan versions of Mousterian? Could be that searching in Byzovaya, a so cold place, well be so happy to find even better preserved bones for DNA analysys?

Thanks so much for your message.

Yes, I agree with you that the existence of Mousterian people in the Arctic is pretty strong evidence about their ability to survive a climate extreme. I think they would have eaten a Heinrich event for lunch.

The Denisova stone assemblage is distinguishable from other Mousterian, but I would say it is not qualitatively different. The situation in the Altai is archaeologically very complex, also, so I do not think we have a secure understanding of the relation of the Denisovan biological population and the stone artifactual record. Seems clear there is not a radically different intrusive culture but I would not be very hopeful about finding strong archaeological connections to other parts of East or Southeast Asia.

Cold places are always hopeful for DNA recovery; hope they find some human remains.