New analysis of a rediscovered fragment of a finger bone suggests the hands of ancient humans were similar to ours.
The tip of the right-handed little finger was separated from the rest after it was discovered by scientists excavating Denisova Cave in Siberia’s Altai mountains in 2008.
Denisovans and Neanderthals – both relatives of modern humans – are believed to have co-existed for thousands of years in the remote cave and probably across Asia – more than 30,000 years ago.
One fragment of the fossil was sent to a geneticist in Leipzig, Germany, and the fingertip to a geneticist in California, who later passed it on to Eva-Maria Geigl, a palaeogeneticist at Institut Jacques Monod in Paris who contributed to the new research.
She sampled the fossil’s DNA and took detailed photographs before returning it.
A digital reconstruction of the complete finger bone, which belonged to a 13-year-old girl, has now revealed it looks more modern human than Neanderthal.
The study was published on Wednesday in the Science Advances journal.
“Denisovan fingers were gracile like those of modern humans and not stubby digits with blunt ends like those of their sister species the Neanderthals,” said Dr Geigl.
The Siberian cave is the only site in the world where fossils have been found that belong to Denisovans.
The initial discovery of the finger bone represented the first-known remains of a child that had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father, according to a study published in the Nature journal last September.
“We knew from previous studies that Neanderthals and Denisovans must have occasionally had children together,” Viviane Slon, author of the study and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said in a statement at the time.
“But I never thought we would be so lucky as to find an actual offspring of the two groups.”