As more human fossils are being found and studied, it is becoming apparent that archaic humans were widely dispersed more than 50,000 years ago. A recent report in Nature contained this map showing the location of Middle Pleistocene fossils in Northern Spain (shown in yellow), Denisovan finds (blue), and Late Pleistocene Neanderthal finds (red). Ancient DNA has been recovered from fossils at these sites.
Dr Juan-Luis Arsuaga teamed up with Max Planck scientists, who recently developed novel techniques for retrieving and sequencing highly degraded ancient DNA.
The team applied the new techniques to hominin remains from the Sima de los Huesos site to sequence their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and then compared the genome with that of Neandertals, Denisovans, present-day humans, and apes.
The results show that the Sima de los Huesos hominin lived about 400,000 years ago and shared a common ancestor with Denisovans, an ancient human species that lived in a vast range from Siberia to Southeast Asia at the same time as Neanderthals, about 700,000 years ago.
“The fact that the mtDNA of the Sima de los Huesos hominin shares a common ancestor with Denisovan rather than Neanderthal mtDNAs is unexpected since its skeletal remains carry Neanderthal-derived features,” said Dr Matthias Meyer, the lead author of a paper published online in Nature.
Read more here.
Other archaic humans lived in Africa near Lake Chad, Lake Turkana, Lake Baringo, and in Southern Africa. Paleoanthropologist John Hawks has written (here) about the Lake Turkana-Omo region, "Ancient people were using this area throughout, leaving stone artifacts. It is amazing walking along the exposures, noting the stones that are the marks of ancient human activity. These early modern humans were making fundamentally the same kinds of artifacts that we find across western Eurasia, made by the earliest Neandertals, and across most of the African continent at the same time. There were regional differences in the pattern of toolmaking, but there was a broad technological commonality. This was the cultural background of our ancestors."