The recent discovery of a Denisovan tooth in Laos represents the first fossil discovery of the enigmatic hominid species outside of Russia and Tibet. Although the genetic structure of modern-day Australian Aboriginals and Pacific Islanders shows the presence of Denisovan genes, indicating the species was widely dispersed through Australia, Papua New Guinea and Oceania, no fossils had been discovered before this in the region.
Denisovans, first discovered in the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, are thought to have existed from 30,000 to 500,000 years ago and have only been known from very limited fossil evidence found in Russia and Tibet. DNA analysis found that the Denisovans had split from Neanderthals 400,000 to 500,000 years ago.
The discovery was reported in a paper titled “A Middle Pleistocene Denisovan molar from the Annamite Chain of northern Laos,” published in Nature Communications on May 17.