Most everyone knows that the islands of the South Pacific are some of the most remote and unique places on Earth, but a new study reveals just how unique they really are.
According to a report from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, researchers have found traces of a previously unknown extinct hominid species in the DNA of the Melanesians, a group living in an area northeast of Australia that encompasses Papua New Guinea and the surrounding islands.
A computer analysis suggests that the unidentified ancestral hominid species found in Melanesian DNA is unlikely to be either Neanderthal or Denisovan, the two known predecessors of humankind to this point.
Archaeologists have found many Neanderthal fossils in Europe and Asia, and although the only Denisovan DNA comes from a finger bone and a couple of teeth discovered in a Siberian cave, both species are well represented in the fossil record.
But now genetic modeling of the Melanesians has revealed a third, different human ancestor that may be an extinct, distinct cousin of the Neanderthals.
“We’re missing a population, or we’re misunderstanding something about the relationships,” researcher Ryan Bohlender told Science News. “Human history is a lot more complicated than we thought it was.”