Tooth from mysterious human relative adds new wrinkles to their story
Discovered thousands of miles south of the only other known Denisovan fossils, the molar provides fresh evidence of the enigmatic humans’ spread across ancient Asia.
After scrambling up a steep rocky pitch in the Annamite Mountains of Laos, Laura Shackelford was initially underwhelmed. The paleoanthropologist from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign stood in a cramped hollow known as Cobra Cave, looking for bones that a local Hmong boy had mentioned seeing. Flipping on her flashlight, she swept the beam of light from one seemingly barren wall to another.
Then she looked up.
“I saw almost nothing but bone,” says Shackelford, who is also a National Geographic Explorer. Embedded in the rubbly ceiling were fossils of animals long gone, scattered across the cave’s roof “almost like stars.”
For years Shackelford and her team had worked in Laos’s labyrinthine cave systems in search of ancient human remains, and