Novosibirsk Scientists with Foreign Colleagues Establish Denisova Cave Chronology

A team of interdisciplinary researchers established a chronology for the appearance of different groups of hominids in the Denisova Cave using various methods such as studying feldspar microcrystals.

Scientists fr om Novosibirsk State University and the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS, together with colleagues from the UK, Australia, Germany and Canada, conducted research and were able to determine who lived for what period in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Territory.

Based on information obtained by radiocarbon dating and optically stimulated luminescence, as well as DNA sequencing and statistical processing of a whole complex of natural scientific data, scientists believe that man inhabited the Denisova Cave approximately 300 thousand years ago. Direct evidence of man’s presence was found in the cave from more than 200 thousand years ago, and evidence of Neanderthals more than 150 thousand years ago. The research results were published in the international scientific journal Nature (article 1.2).

Recent studies of potash feldspar microcrystals have made it possible to determine in detail the age of deposits and finds (stone tools and human remains) in the Denisova Cave. The oldest of the guns found there date back to 287 thousand years ago. This allows us to conclude that the tools belonged to Denisovans. Their DNA also indicates the early appearance of the Denisovans in the cave. This was found in earlier sediments of the cave than the layers wh ere the presence of Neanderthals was discovered. These species coexisted for a long time in the same territory.

Andrei Krivoshapkin, Head of the NSU Archeology and Ethnography Section, described the significance of this work,

The most important aspect of the published results from the work of this large interdisciplinary group of scientists, is the identification of the first human appearance in the Denisova Cave and a reconstruction of the complete chronology of ancient man’s settlement in the Cave and correspondingly in the territory of Altai. Currently, the consistency, mass character, accuracy and reliability of the absolute age proposed for the Denisova Cave in these publications is beyond doubt. An interesting result of the research is that the latest evidence of the presence of Neanderthals in the Denisova Cave is about 90-80 thousand years ago, while the Denisov people continued to live there until at least 50 thousand years ago. That is, until that time when the Upper Paleolithic culture, traditionally associated with modern man, appears in the Altai. Scientists have not found the remains or DNA of modern man in either the Denisova Cave or the nearby monuments. As a result, researchers studying the history of the Denisova Cave settlement hypothesize that the Denisovans produced the art objects and “advanced” tools found in the cave layers aged from 50 thousand years ago and later. This is extremely interesting, and I hope that in the near future new discoveries by our scientists will clarify this very important stage in the history of man.

In 2010, a new human subspecies was discovered in the Denisova Cave based on DNA analysis isolated from the phalange (finger bone) of a girl discovered here. In 2018, thanks to the work of an international research group, it was discovered that Denisovans and Neanderthals had joint offspring.