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An ancient Indonesian woman challenges conventional wisdom about the spread of early humans

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The discovery of genetic clues in the body of a young woman who died 7,000 years ago is the first evidence that early humans in Indonesia mixed with people from Siberia much earlier than previously assumed.

The research https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03823-6 published in the scientific journal Nature in August, after analysis of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), or genetic fingerprint, of the woman who was given a ritual burial in an Indonesian cave, could change theories about early human migration in Asia.


"There's a chance the Wallacea region was a meeting point for two human species, the Denisovans and early homo sapiens," said Basran Burhan, an archaeologist from Griffith University in Australia.

Burhan, one of the researchers, was referring to the region of Indonesia that includes South Sulawesi, where the body was discovered in the Leang Pannige cave systems, buried with boulders in its hands and on its pelvis.


The Denisovans were an ancient human race called after a cave in Siberia where their remains were discovered in 2010. Scientists know very little about them, including their looks.

The DNA from Besse, as the researchers named the young woman in Indonesia, is one of the rare well-preserved specimens identified in the tropics, using the term for a new born baby girl in the indigenous Bugis language.

It revealed she was descended from the Austronesian people of Southeast Asia and Oceania, with a minor Denisovan component, according to the experts.


They wrote in the study, "Genetic investigations suggest that this pre-Neolithic forager... reflects a hitherto unknown divergent human ancestry."

Besse's DNA contradicts assumptions regarding early human migratory patterns, as experts previously believed that North Asian people like the Denisovans first arrived in Southeast Asia some 3,500 years ago.

The discovery could potentially shed light on the origins of Denisovan DNA-carrying Papuans and Indigenous Australians.


"Migration theories will change, just as race theories will change," said Iwan Sumantri, a lecturer at Hasanuddin University in South Sulawesi and a collaborator on the study.

He stated that Besse's remains are the earliest evidence of Denisovans among Austronesians, Indonesia's oldest ethnic grouping.

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