Thanks to the painstaking research efforts by archaeologists and various other scientists over the past several decades, humans are now finally starting to construct a real picture of how our ancestors may have lived, died, and even interbred over the course of millennia. While these efforts serve to invaluably educate our species on its pedigree, they also fall far short of painting a picture of clarity and instead are providing a heavily granulated mosaic.
Due to its location, the Denisova Cave in the Bashelaksky Mountain Range of the Siberian region of Russia has an average year round temperate of just 32°F. Scientists are finding that this particular cave was once home to many of our ancestors and has basically become a cold storage for human and humanoid-produced artifacts (and remains) for the periods of time in which it has been left uninhabited and dormant.
First noticed to have significant archaeological value in the 1970’s, this cave has since yielded a treasure trove of absolutely priceless artifacts that give us a window back into history allowing us to see the work of early humanoid artists whose talent now echoes throughout time. Some of the most impressive pieces have impossibly small holes drilled into them which must have required a level of skill unparalleled for vast swaths of history considering the prehistorical tools available at the time.
When people speak of history they can usually get some sort of an idea of the time frames in question by comparing to their own experiences in life. If something occurred fifty years ago for instance they might picture what it’s like to live ten years of their life (then multiply that by five) whilst cross-referencing that to what they know occurs in the span of fifty years of recorded history. This is enough time for someone to be born and grow old, for business empires to rise and fall, and for technological advances to change our standards of living. What people can’t understand however is when we start to talk about the spans of time required in order to map out the history of the Denisova Cave. What we are talking about here are millennia, and once the conversation gets to that point, we need to try extremely hard to truly understand the subject material.
According to some of the latest research, this cave has a history of humanoid occupation dating to nearly as long as 300,000 years. This is insane. What makes it even more curious is that it isn’t the remains of modern humans that are the most exciting and perplexing (although they are present as well) but rather the remains of not one, but two early humanoid species also found in the cave – with most probably at least some eras of overlapping use. What this means is that multiple species most likely shared this cave together and just about certainly interbred while doing so.
Since we were first able to look up at the stars at night we’ve wondered from whence we came and with every passing year and development of technological advance we step teasingly closer to the answers that we seek. This never-ending “march of time”-like progression is something that we rely on to eventually fully enlighten us, and it helps us to sleep better at night thinking that eventually we’ll figure everything out and have all of the answers.
The Denisova Cave is one of the double-edged swords of these advances in our understanding because it has raised at least as many questions as it has answered about our history – not only just what happened and when but also, who ARE we? The typical historical narrative suggests that we are modern homo sapiens that migrated out of Africa some time after some of our earlier humanoid brethren had already done so, and after some contact with them or not, we were the only ones to survive to present day with the rest falling into history after becoming extinct for one reason or another. This story is nice and neat and sets modern humans up on some pedestal as having survived as a result of either being more highly evolved, intelligent, adaptable, fierce, or all of the above.
As archaeologists continue to dig up, sift through, study, and date the artifacts uncovered, it is increasingly looking like the humanoid species Neanderthal and Denisovan co-occupied this cave for millennia at a time, and this is not just one or two thousand years, but more like 96,000 years of co-habitation! This is where the modern human mind just cannot understand what is being said. This is such an astronomically high number of years for two humanoids species to be co-existing in the exact same place, that it is nearly impossible for them to have failed to interbreed together.
Imagine male and female humanoids living in the same cave together for forty-eight times as long as the distance in history between us today and when Jesus walked the earth. That is striking by itself, but now try to imagine them never having interbred and it becomes most obvious that they must have indeed.
These implications are now actually being confirmed by scientists and are in fact, no longer just conjecture. A study in 2018 using the latest in “collagen peptide mass fingerprinting” technology has effectively proven the finding of the remains of a thirteen year old girl who was most likely the offspring of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father. While these studies are certainly answering many, many questions of our history around the migrations and interactions of early humanoid species, they are diluting the clarity of the picture of exactly what other interbreeding occurred and what that means for us today.
As we listened to our instructors in class during our schooling we had a fairly clear painting of where we came from – and how – with regards to a Homo Sapien origin in Africa, followed by the great coastal migration and so on and so forth. This story was simple enough and made sense. With the latest discoveries from the Denisova Cave however, that picture is now becoming as pixelated as a low quality YouTube video to the point where it’s now nearly unwatchable.
If Neanderthals and Denisovans cross-bred, it is at the very least prudent to assume that further interbreeding occurred between Homo Sapiens as well. What does this mean? It means we are in fact NOT the same Homo Sapiens that broke out of Africa all of those years ago as we were told in our classrooms. Instead, it means that we’re something else…some hodgepodge mixture of early humanoid species crossed with those ALSO early humanoid Homo Sapiens, which altogether resulted in whatever we are today that can only be defined as “modern humans”. Maybe someday we will know who we are, but in the meantime we will keep looking to the stars and asking those questions as our historical genetic makeup continues to descend into an ever-complicated mosaic of confusion.
The truth is out there…