WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Genetic material pulled from a pinky finger bone found in a Siberian cave shows a new and unknown type of pre-human lived alongside modern humans and Neanderthals, scientists reported on Wednesday.
The creature, nicknamed “Woman X” for the time being, could have lived as recently as 30,000 years ago and appears only distantly related to modern humans or Neanderthals, the researchers reported.
“It really just looked like something we had never seen before,” Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told a telephone briefing.
“It was a sequence that looked something like humans but really quite different.”
Writing in Nature, Krause and colleagues said they sequenced DNA from the mitochondria, a part of the cell, which is passed down virtually intact from a woman to her children. They compared it to DNA from humans, Neanderthals and apes.
The sequence indicates the hominin’s line diverged about a million years ago from the line that gave rise to both humans and Neanderthals and that split about 500,000 years ago.
That makes it younger than Homo erectus, the pre-human that spread out of Africa to much of the world about 1.9 million years ago.
“It is some new creature that has not been on our radar screen so far,” said Svaante Paabo, a colleague of Krause’s who specializes in analyzing ancient DNA.
And it would have lived near to both modern humans and Neanderthals. “There were at least three … different forms of humans in this area 40,000 years ago,” Paabo said.