A.P. Derevianko, M.V. Shunkov, and M.B. Kozlikin
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pr. Akademika Lavrentieva 17, Novosibirsk, 630090, Russia
We provide a comprehensive summary of data relating to the origin, chronology, and culture of the Denisovans— a separate hominin population, first described in 2010 on the basis of aDNA extracted from fossils found in Denisova Cave, in the northwestern part of the Russian Altai. We cite the results of morphological and genomic studies of the teeth and postcranial bones of those hominins. On the basis of a large series of optical and radiocarbon dates of the Pleistocene strata of Denisova Cave, the timeline for the hominin evolution in that region is reconstructed. The chronology of the evolutionary events based on aDNA is discussed. We provide a detailed description of stone and bone tools, and ornaments made of various materials, from Denisova habitation horizons. It is demonstrated that the Paleolithic cultural sequence in that cave is the most complete in North and Central Asia, spanning the principal stages of human evolutionary history over the last 300 thousand years. Denisovan origins and their role in the emergence of anatomically modern humans are reconstructed on the basis of a large body of archaeological, skeletal, and genetic data relating to Africa and Eurasia. It is concluded that the Neanderthal and Denisovan genetic legacy in the modern human gene pool indicates the existence of several zones in Africa and Eurasia where H. erectus evolution proceeded independently. The same applies to the evolution of lithic technologies.