Former Indonesian woman reshapes views on the spread of early humans

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Genetic traces in the body of a young woman who died 7,000 years ago provide the first clue that the mixing between the first humans of Indonesia and those of distant Siberia took place much earlier than previously thought previously.

Theories on the first human migrations in Asia could be transformed by research published in the scientific journal Nature in August, after analysis of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), or genetic fingerprint, of the woman who was ritually buried in an Indonesian cave.

“It is possible that the Wallacea region was the meeting point of two human species, between the Denisovans and the early homo sapiens,” said Basran Burhan, archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia. Burhan, one of the scientists who participated in the research, was referring to the region of Indonesia that includes South Sulawesi, where the body, buried with stones in its hands and on the pelvis, was found in the Leang Pannige cave complexes.

The Denisovans were a group of ancient humans named after a cave in Siberia where their remains were first identified in 2010 and scientists understand little about them, even the details of their appearance.

Besse’s DNA, as the researchers named the young woman in Indonesia, using the term for a newborn baby girl in the regional Bugi language, is one of the few well-preserved specimens found in the tropics. It was shown to be descended from the Austronesian people common to Southeast Asia and Oceania, but with the inclusion of a small part of Denisovan, the scientists said.

“Genetic analyzes show that this pre-Neolithic forager … represents a previously unknown divergent human lineage,” they said in the newspaper.

Since scientists until recently believed that North Asian peoples such as the Denisovans only arrived in Southeast Asia around 3,500 years ago, Besse’s DNA alters theories on the patterns of the first human migrations.

The find may also offer insight into the origins of Papuans and indigenous Australians who share Denisovan’s DNA.

“Migration theories will change, as race theories will also change,” said Iwan Sumantri, professor at Hasanuddin University in South Sulawesi, who is also involved in the project. Besse’s remains are the first sign of Denisovans among the Austronesians, who are Indonesia’s oldest ethnic group, he added. “Now try to imagine how they propagated and distributed their genes to reach Indonesia,” Sumantri said.

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