Sunday, March 25, 2018

Was The Dali Skull A Denisovan?

Consider the Dali skull in China from 209,000 +/- 23,000 years ago. 

Was it a Denisovan? As one person in the linked twitter thread notes:

It is not a Neanderthal and and too recent for Homo heidelbergensis. It is almost as old as the oldest trace of modern humans in Africa, and it is about 100,000 years older than the oldest Out of Africa modern human known from any other source.

We don't have ancient DNA from this 1978 discovery or several other ill classified old hominin fossils from China.

Wikipedia notes that:
The Dali cranium is interesting to modern anthropologists as it is possibly a well-preserved example of archaic Homo sapiens; it has a mixture of traits from Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.The details of the face and skull are however distinct from European Neanderthals and earlier European hominids, such as remains found in Petralona cave and Atapuerca. . . . 
There has been considerable debate regarding how to classify the fossil in terms of species, with some anthropologists insisting it to be a regional variant of Homo heidelbergensis and others categorizing it as an early representative of Homo sapiens, and as such there is no current consensus on the species status of the Dali fossil. Some anthropologists, notably many Chinese representatives, cite the characteristics of the Dali cranium and other similar Chinese fossils of that era as evidence for genetic continuity in modern H. sapiens today, as Dali's traits are commonly found in modern Chinese H. sapiens populations. . . . 

An assortment of primitive Homo skulls have tentatively been placed with the Dali find. The Maba Man, a 120 to 140 000 year old fragmentary skull from Guangdong in China shows the same general contours of the forehead. A partial female skeleton with skull from Jinniushan (also China) seems to belong to the same group, characterized by a very robust skull cap but less robust skull base. A possibly fourth member could be the Narmada skull from the Madhya Pradesh in India, consisting of a single robust cranial vault
The Denisova hominin, represented by a very robust finger bone found in the Altai mountains in Russia is quoted as likely linked to the Dali people. DNA studies show the bone belong to a woman, with Mitochondrial DNA linking it to a very deep split in the human tree, at around 1 million years old. This would make the DNA erectus rather than heidelbergensis or other more recent splits. However, the analysis of the nuclear DNA points to a sister group relationship with the neanderthals.
Even one DNA match to Denisovans from any of the skulls in this category could make a very strong case for the classification of all of them.

A related question is whether Dali-hominins replaced Homo erectus in China, co-existed with Homo erectus in China, or evolved from Homo erectus in China. 


neo said...

"A related question is whether Dali-hominins replaced Homo erectus in China, co-existed with Homo erectus in China, or evolved from Homo erectus in China."

Couldn't Dali skull be homo erectus?

what are prospects of obtaining DNA say from tooth pulp from dali specimens

andrew said...

Dali skull is too many non-archaic features to be unevolved H. erectus.

I don't know what the ancient DNA prospects are for sure, but suspect that they are poor. It rivals some of the very oldest ancient DNA samples and if it could have been done already it probably would have been done.

neo said...

i see. aren't neanderthals denisovans h sapiens ultimately evolved from homo erectus and since they are inter fertile doesn't this establish multiregionalism at some level.

any news on red deer cave people and possible relations with neanderthals denisovans h sapiens and dali people?

andrew said...

I haven't heard anything new about the Red Deer Cave people since a little more than two years ago.

Multiregionalism means multiple independent evolutions of modern humans from a common archaic species. This is not an accurate description of how modern humans evolved even considering multiple instances of archaic admixture with modern humans in and outside of Africa.

neo said...

homo sapiens are interfertile with other archaic species that derive from other homo erectus lineages. this seems consistent with multiregionalism and inconsistent with RAO claim of homo sapiens as a new species and therefore infertile with other lineages derived from other erectus populations

andrew said...

Homo sapiens are not fully interfertile with other archaic species, they are subject to hybrid species limitation on their fertility.

capra internetensis said...

How about a mix of late Homo erectus and Denisovan? The Altai Denisovans had some 'super-archaic' admixture, maybe they were at one end of a cline.

andrew said...

Possible. There is indeed some extremely archaic admixture in the Denisovan genome so there was something along that line happening.