Denisova Cave

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Denisova Cave
Денисова пещера
Tourists in front of the cave
Denisova Cave
Denisova Cave in Russia
Denisova Cave in Russia
Location in Russia
Denisova Cave in Russia
Denisova Cave in Russia
Location in Russia
Alternate name Аю-Таш
Location Altai Krai
Region Siberia, Russia
Coordinates 51°23′51.29″N 84°40′34.34″E / 51.3975806°N 84.6762056°E / 51.3975806; 84.6762056Coordinates: 51°23′51.29″N 84°40′34.34″E / 51.3975806°N 84.6762056°E / 51.3975806; 84.6762056
Type limestone, karst
Area 270 m2 (2,900 sq ft)
Periods Paleolithic 30,000 to 48,000 years ago
Cultures Neanderthals

Denisova Cave (Russian: Денисова пещера, Altai: Аю-Таш) is a cave in the Bashelaksky Range of the Altai mountains, Siberia, Russia. The cave is of great paleoarchaeological and paleontological interest. Bone fragments of the Denisova hominin, sometimes called the "X woman" (referring to the maternal descent of mitochondrial DNA) originate from the cave, including artifacts dated to around 40,000 BP.

The cave is located in a region thought to have been inhabited concurrently in the past by Neanderthals and modern humans. A bone needle dated to 50,000 years ago was discovered at the archaeological site in 2016 and is described as the most ancient needle known.[1]


Located in Altai Krai, at the border of the Altai Republic, the cave is near the village of Chorny Anui (Чёрный Ануй), and some 150 km south of Barnaul, the nearest major city.[2] The cave, which is approximately 28 m (92 ft) above the right bank of the Anuy River (a left tributary of the Ob), has formed in upper Silurian limestone and contains a floor area of about 270 m2 (2,900 sq ft). It contains a central chamber with a floor of 9 m (30 ft) x 11 m (36 ft) with side galleries.[3] It has been described as both as a karst cave[2] and as a sandstone cave.[3]

Cave sediments are rich with remnants of animals, including extinct ones. Remains of 27 species of large and medium-sized mammals have been found, (such as cave hyena, cave lion, etc.) and 39 species of small mammals, as well as remnants of reptiles, 50 bird species and other vertebrates.[4][5] Pollen in the sediments of cave is used for palaeoclimatological research.


In the 18th century, the cave was inhabited by a hermit, Dionisij (Denis), and was named after him, while the indigenous Altay people call it Ayu-Tash (Bear Rock).[2] In the 1970s, Soviet scientists discovered paleoarcheological remains in the cave that led to further explorations.[2] So far, 22 strata have been identified, with archeological artifacts that cover the time from Dionisij back to about 125,000-180,000 years ago.[3] The dating of the strata was accomplished by the use of thermoluminescence dating of sediments, or, in some cases, radiocarbon dating on charcoal.[3]

Among the archeological artifacts are Mousterian- and Levallois-style tools attributed to Neanderthals.[6] Beside tools, researchers found decorative objects of bone, mammoth tusk, animal teeth, ostrich egg shell, fragments of a stone bracelet made of drilled, worked, and polished dark green chloritolite, and pendants.[3] A 7 cm (2.8 in) sewing needle made from bird bone, estimated to be around 50,000 years-old, was found in Denisova Cave.[7]

The average annual temperature of the cave remains at 0 °C (32 °F), which has contributed to the preservation of archaic DNA among the remains discovered.[8]

Denisova hominin[edit]

Main article: Denisova hominin

Scientists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of Novosibirsk have investigated the cave. Among the artifacts which had been left about 30,000 to 48,000 years ago (strata 9-11), bones were identified. One of these bones was a piece of phalanx of a child that was analyzed by Svante Pääbo and coworkers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig; its mitochondrial DNA revealed a structure that differs from known human patterns and has been ascribed to "Denisova hominin", apparently an extinct hominin species or subspecies.[6] Further analysis revealed the Denisovans were related to the Neanderthals and interbred with the ancestors of modern Melanesians.[9]

Neanderthal remains[edit]

In 2011, a toe bone was discovered in the cave, in layer 11, and therefore contemporary with the finger bone. Preliminary characterization of the bone's mitochondrial DNA suggests it belonged to a Neanderthal, not a Denisovan.[10] Later analysis confirmed the toe bone as coming from a Neanderthal.[11] The cave also contains stone tools and bone artifacts made by modern humans, and Pääbo commented: "The one place where we are sure all three human forms have lived at one time or another is here in Denisova Cave."[10]

In 2015, researchers applied a new technique via species identification by collagen peptide mass fingerprinting, Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS), to sort through 2,315 unidentified bone fragments retrieved from a 2014 excavation.[12][13] They found that one sample, DC1227, carried human traits, the first time that this technique was used to successfully identify the presence of an extinct human.[13] DC1227 was a bone fragment weighing 1.68 g (0.059 oz), measuring in with a maximum length of 24.7 mm (0.97 in) and maximum width of 8.39 mm (0.330 in).[12] mtDNA analysis revealed that the owner of the bone fragment was a Neanderthal, with the closest affinity to other Neanderthals discovered in the Altai region.[12][13]


So far, the fossils of five distinct individuals from Denisova Cave have been identified through their DNA. Three of the individuals, Denisova 3, Denisova 4 and Denisova 8 are classified as Denisovans.[14] Denisova 3 is a young girl, while Denisova 4 and Denisova 8 are adult males.[14] One of the individuals, the Altai Neanderthal, is a Neanderthal woman.[11] Before its DNA was sequenced, the Altai Neanderthal had been given the provisional name of Denisova 5.[14] The most recent discovery, Denisova 11, is identified as a Neanderthal based on mtDNA evidence.[12]

During DNA sequencing, Denisova 4 and Denisova 8 yielded low-coverage genomes, while Denisova 3 and the Altai Neanderthal yielded high-coverage genomes.[14]

Name Species Age Discovery First public. Image Conservation
Denisova 3
or X Woman (finger phalanx)[15][16]
Homo sp. 30-50 ka 2008
Team of Michael Shunkov
Johannes Krause, et al.
Replica of the phalanx. It was destroyed to investigate the mtDNA.
Destroyed to investigate the mtDNA.
Denisova 4 (molar)[15][17][18][19] Homo sp. 30-50 ka 2000
Replica of the molar of Denisova. Part of the roots was destroyed to study the mtDNA. Their size and shape indicate it is neither Neanderthal nor H. sapiens.
Altai Neanderthal (proximal toe phalanx) [11] H. neandertalensis 30-50 ka 2010 M.B. Mednikova (2011)[20] [21]
Denisova 8 (molar)[14] Homo sp. 2010
Denisova 11 (bone fragment from sample DC1227)[12] H. neandertalensis >50 ka 2014 Samantha Brown, et al. (2016)


  1. ^ The Siberian Times reporter, World's oldest needle found in Siberian cave that stitches together human history, The Siberian Times, August 23, 2016
  2. ^ a b c d "Денисова пещера. Denisova-Denisova Cave-Denis Cave". Retrieved March 24, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Hirst K K. "Denisova Cave (Siberia).Altai Mountain Paleolithic Site of Denisova Cave". Retrieved March 24, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Шуньков М. В, Агаджанян А. К. Палеография палеолита Денисовой пещеры. Археология, этнография и антропология Евразии. 2000.- No. 2 (2).- pages 2-20.". Retrieved March 28, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Denisova Cave – abode of Denisova hominins, Wondermondo". Retrieved March 28, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Rex Dalton (March 24, 2010). "Fossil finger points to new human species. DNA analysis reveals lost relative from 40,000 years ago". Nature. 464 (7288): 472–473. doi:10.1038/464472a. Retrieved March 24, 2010. 
  7. ^ "World's oldest needle found in Siberian cave that stitches together human history". The Siberian Times. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 5 September 2016. 
  8. ^ Mitchell, Alanna, DNA Turning Human Story Into a Tell-All, New York Times, Science section, p. D1, January 30, 2012
  9. ^ Carl Zimmer (22 December 2010). "Denisovans Were Neanderthals' Cousins, DNA Analysis Reveals". Retrieved 22 December 2010. 
  10. ^ a b Gibbons, Ann (August 2011). "Who Were the Denisovans?" (PDF). Science. 333 (6046): 1084–87. doi:10.1126/science.333.6046.1084. PMID 21868646. Retrieved January 2012.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. ^ a b c Prüfer, Kay (2013). "The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains". Nature. 505 (1): 43–49. Bibcode:2014Natur.505...43P. doi:10.1038/nature12886. PMC 4031459Freely accessible. PMID 24352235. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Brown, Samantha; Higham, Thomas; Slon, Viviane; Pääbo, Svante (March 29, 2016). "Identification of a new hominin bone from Denisova Cave, Siberia using collagen fingerprinting and mitochondrial DNA analysis". Scientific Reports. 6: 23559. doi:10.1038/srep23559. 
  13. ^ a b c "Novel collagen fingerprinting identifies a Neanderthal bone among 2,000 fragments". University of Oxford. University of Oxford. Mar 29, 2016. Retrieved 1 April 2016. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Sawyer, Susanna; Renaud, Gabriel; Viola, Bence; Hublin, Jean-Jacques; Gansauge, Marie-Theres; Shunkov, Michael V.; Derevianko, Anatoly P.; Prüfer, Kay; Kelso, Janet; Pääbo, Svante (11 November 2015). "Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from two Denisovan individuals". PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1519905112. Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  15. ^ a b Reich D, Green RE, Kircher M, Krause J, Patterson N, Durand EY, Viola B, Briggs AW, Stenzel U, Johnson PLF, Maricic T, Good JM, Marques-Bonet T, Alkan C, Fu Q, Mallick S, Li H, Meyer M, Eichler EE, Stoneking M, Richards M, Talamo S, Shunkov MV, Derevianko AP, Hublin J-J, Kelso J, Slatkin M, Pääbo S (2011). Supplementary Information: Genetic History of an Archaic Hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia (PDF). Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  16. ^ Wong, K. (24 March 2010). "No bones about it: ancient DNA from Siberia hints at previously unknown human relative". Scientific American. ISSN 0036-8733. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  17. ^ Ewen Callaway (22 December 2010). "News: Fossil genome reveals ancestral link: A distant cousin raises questions about human origins". Nature. 468 (1012): 1012. Bibcode:2010Natur.468.1012C. doi:10.1038/4681012a. ISSN 0028-0836. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  18. ^ Reich, D.; Richard, E. G. et al. (23 December 2010). "Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia". Nature. 468 (1012): 1053–1060. Bibcode:2010Natur.468.1053R. doi:10.1038/nature09710. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 21179161. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  19. ^ Picture of the actually molar of Denisova.
  20. ^ M.B. Mednikova (March 2011). "A proximal pedal phalanx of a Paleolithic hominin from Denisova cave, Altai". Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia. 39 (1): 129–138. doi:10.1016/j.aeae.2011.06.017. 
  21. ^ Pedal phalanx, actually fossil.

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