In the last chapter of this series I discussed some of the finds around in the Altai Mountains in modern day Siberia, dated between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago. The oldest of these two finds was a neanderthal woman, who lived some 50 kya. The other find was a little girl, a Denisovan, who had lived sometime around 30 kya. Between the two of them, we see a continuity among my ancestors, who were in the area for at least twenty thousand years. As I pointed out in the comments of Chapter 3C, there was also the remains of a dog found in a nearby cave.
For this chapter I want to continue our journey, but before I do I think it is important to recap a little bit about how the world looked around 50 kya. First off, as was evident from the last chapter in this series, our H.Sapiens ancestors migrated out of Africa and into a world already inhabited by other homins. The most prominent of these was the Neanderthals, who had a range that stretched from western and northern Europe, down through the Middle East and into East Asia.
Approximated Neanderthal Range, from Wikipedia Commons
In addition to the Neanderthals, there were others species/sub-species of homin in the area as well. The Denisovans are a notable examples of course, but there may have been others as well. It is important to note that these debates are ongoing within anthropological and archaeological disciplines. In short, the jury is still out.
The spread of Denisovans, Neanderthals and Modern Humans, from Wikipedia Commons
The extent of the Weishselian glaciation (Europe), from Wikipedia Commons
The world was filled with homins as Modern Humans spread out from Africa over the millenia. More than this though, the world was also covered in ice. The Weishselian glaciation, which lasted from 115,000 BP to about 10,000 BP. For over a hundred thousand years, while the Neanderthals roamed southern Europe and our ancestors came out to meet them, most of the northern parts of the globe were covered in an untold amount of ice and snow. This is the world our ancestors lived in.
From about 50 kya years ago down to about 10 kya years the world was in the time period known as the Upper Paleolithic, and it was a time of a flourishing of art and artifacts across the world. Modern humans spread across the globe, leaving behind them a host of rock art, cave paintings, and tools of all sorts, made of bone and flint in an increasing variety and sophistication.
Which brings us to the next part of our journey, around 45,000 years ago. Here I match with a male in Ust-Ishim, in modern day Siberia. This find is a bit to the west of the Altai Mountains.
“In 2008 the Russian artist Nikolai V. Peristov was searching for ivory to make carvings out of along the river banks of Irtysh near the town Ust’-Ishim in Siberia.
Instead of ancient ivory he discovered something even more magnificent: a 45.000 year old male thigh-bone, a femur.” From Science Nordic
This was how the story of the Ust Ishim man began, and after a few hand offs find made its way into the hands of the experts at the Max Plank Institute, and one man who is one of the leading experts in the field of ancient DNA, a Swedish man by the name of Svante Pääbo. If you recall, he was also one of the leading experts behind the sequencing of the neanderthal DNA at Denisova.
The Ust Ishim man was a spectacular find, because it only added to the work that Dr. Pääbo had already done;
“Pääbo’s team of scientists have previously mapped the genome of our closest relatives, the Neanderthal, from 50,000 year old bones. Their studies have shown that our ancestors had children with the Neanderthals during their migration to Europe. This means that all people outside Africa today carry about 2 percent Neanderthal DNA in their genomes.
It has been estimated that this intimate meeting took place between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago, but with the new information from the Siberian man from Ust’-Ishim, this has been narrowed down to 50.000-60.000 years ago.
The scientists found that the Ust’-Ishim mans genome contained Neanderthal segments that are 2-4 times longer than in us today. This allowed them to calculate that the Neanderthal DNA was introduced between 232 and 430 generations earlier.” From Science Nordic
The reasons that DNA varies so much over time is because that it is constantly being reshuffled each time a new generation is conceived. As the New York Times puts it, it is kind of like the shuffling of a deck of cards;
“During the development of eggs and sperm, each pair of chromosomes swaps pieces of their DNA. Over the generations, long stretches of DNA get broken into smaller ones, like a deck of cards repeatedly shuffled. Over thousands of generations, the Neanderthal DNA became more fragmented.
Dr. Paabo and his colleagues predicted, however, that Neanderthal DNA in the Ust’-Ishim man’s genome would form longer stretches. And that’s exactly what they found. “It was very satisfying to see that,” Dr. Paabo said.” From New York Times
So, unlike myself, the Ust Ishim Man had traces and much longer of segments of neanderthal DNA in him. Whereas the Neanderthal DNA has been reshuffled in me countless times, the Ust Ishim man was a lot less removed from the events of interbreeding.
That being said, I have a lot more in common with the Ust Ishim man than I do with the neanderthals…
Ust Ishim Man: 31.5% Match
And with that is where I will leave off with this post. I am trying to dig up more research about what life might had been like around 50 – 40 kya in this region, but so far I have not come up with much. Of course I will keep on digging.
As always, thanks for reading!