Fossil analysis reveals how Denisovans thrived on the ‘roof of the world’

Group of Dongju Zhang/Lanzhou University

Excavations in the Baishiya Karst Cave reveal previously unknown details about the life of the Denisovan people on the Tibetan Plateau.

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The grasslands, glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Tibetan Plateau are breathtaking, but the vast expanses of Central Asia are also among the harshest conditions on Earth.

When I traveled to the plateau thirty years ago, I suffered from headaches and became listless from altitude sickness.

Archaeologists have long believed that the Tibetan Plateau, more than 4,000 meters above sea level, was one of the last places on Earth to be settled by humans.

However, new research suggests that a mysterious caveman may have thrived on the so-called roof of the world long before Homo sapiens, our own species, arrived on the scene.

Group of Dongju Zhang/Lanzhou University

Baishiya Karst Cave is located on the edge of the Ganjia Basin on the Tibetan Plateau.

Researchers first identified the Denisovans in 2010 using DNA sequences extracted from a rare small fragment of a finger bone found in Siberia.

The Baishiya Karst Cave, on the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, now helps answer many questions about who the Denisovans were.

Archaeologists examined a jawbone and a rib bone found in the cave, along with thousands of animal bone fragments found during excavations in 2018 and 2019.

The analysis sheds new light on how extinct humans lived during the Ice Age for more than 100,000 years.

With the return of the Chang’e-6 lunar mission on June 25, the Chinese government has something no other human has ever encountered: rocks and soil from the far side of the moon.

China’s National Space Administration has said it will re-share its lunar samples with scientists around the world, following the example set by NASA after the Apollo missions.

But a U.S. law known as the Wolf Amendment prohibits NASA from using government funds for bilateral cooperation with China or its agencies without approval from Congress or the FBI. This could hamper U.S. access to the samples.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told CNN this week that the federal agency was working to ensure that obtaining the lunar soil samples would not violate any laws. Results from analyzing the samples could help scientists peer back into the early days of the moon, Earth and the solar system.

BRIN Google Art

A recreation of the painted scene shows human-like figures (H1, H2 and H3) interacting with the pig.

Take a moment to marvel at what researchers are calling the oldest known story in the world. Painted on a cave wall in what is now Indonesia, it depicts three people interacting with a pig.

The research team used a new technique to date the calcium carbonate crust that formed over the art to more than 50,000 years old.

The discovery is the latest rock art to be found in the region’s fascinating limestone caves and is at least 33,000 years older than Europe’s famous Paleolithic sites such as Lascaux.

Some experts believe the paintings were a visual complement to oral histories that have been lost over time.

Rivers often change course as they flow. But a research team studying the Ganges, which winds its way from the Himalayas through India and Bangladesh, found evidence of something far more dramatic in its distant past.

From clues hidden in the mud and sand grains, scientists have deduced that a powerful earthquake shifted the river 2,500 years ago. This is the first time this natural phenomenon has been observed.

The team discovered sand volcanoes, a feature of a riverbed hit by an earthquake, and a large riverbed that had filled with mud at about the same time.

If a similar earthquake were to strike the Ganges Delta today, more than 140 million people in the region could be affected.

Gerard Talavera

Scientists have found evidence that a group of Painted Ladies flew non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, a new study shows.

Entomologist Dr. Gerard Talavera came across 10 Painted Ladies on a beach in French Guiana about ten years ago. With torn wings full of holes, the insects looked worn out.

Although the Painted Lady is a robust traveller capable of covering long distances, with migration patterns extending over thousands of kilometres, it usually migrates over land so it can stop and rest.

Talavera, a senior researcher at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona in Spain, suspected that the butterflies had crossed the Atlantic Ocean without stopping. In a new study, he and an international team have figured out what it took to make such an epic journey.

In other insect news, researchers have observed ants amputating the infected limbs of injured nestmates.

Read these thought-provoking books.

— The rotation of the Earth’s core has slowed in recent decades, a recent study confirmed. Here’s what that could mean.

— Paleontologists have discovered fossils of a giant swamp creature with a skull shaped like a toilet seat. The animal was likely an apex predator 40 million years before dinosaurs appeared on Earth.

—The discovery of fossilized grape seeds has revealed why you owe your glass of red wine to the demise of the dinosaurs.

— A Massachusetts woman who lost a limb in a 2018 accident is now walking and moving like anyone else, thanks to a bionic leg that is fully connected to her brain.

— A new NASA radar image shows a small moon around an asteroid as it passes close to Earth.

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