From: National Geographic
THE MOUTH OF Baishiya Karst Cave nestles near the base of a towering crag at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Strands of colorful prayer flags crisscross the pale face of the hollow, a holy location where Tibetans have long retreated to pray and heal from sickness. Within the cave’s cool confines in 1980, a local monk happened on something unexpected: a jaw with two huge teeth that, while human, was definitely not like that of humans today.
A study published today in Nature reveals just how much this ancient jaw has to say. A detailed analysis of its physical features, as well as proteins extracted from the fossil, suggest that the mandible, dated to 160,000 years ago, comes from the enigmatic human population known as the Denisovans—a sister group to the Neanderthals previously identified from scant remains found in a single cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains.
“I just couldn’t believe that at the moment [my colleagues] told me,” says study co-author Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University, China. “I was really excited.”