Archaeologists staggered as skeleton DNA uncovers unknown human group

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The skeleton was a female hunter-gatherer from the Wallacea Islands in Indonesia, who’s distinct human lineaxge has never been seen before anywhere else in the world. It was found in a limestone cave in South Sulawesi called Leang Panninge as a still relatively in-tact fossil of a 17 or 18 teenager buried in the foetal position. It was found with other artefacts belonging to a group known as the Toalean people, who were an early group of hunter-gatherers from this part of the world. 

But this is the first Toalean skeleton to ever be found.

The excavation began in 2015 and the findings have been published in a study in the journal Nature.

The study was done in collaboration between Indonesian and international researchers. 

Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University in Brisbane, who co-led the research, said: “This is the first time anyone has reported the discovery of ancient human DNA from the vast island region between mainland Asia and Australia.”

The temperature in humid tropics in locations like this can make it difficult to complete excavation as DNA can easily get degraded. 

Mr Brumm said: “It is very rare to find ancient human DNA in the humid tropics — that’s why this is such a lucky discovery.”

The analysis of the DNA did reveal that the woman was a member of a population group that are related to modern-day Indigenous Australians and Papuans.

Her genome included another trace of an extinct group of humans called the Denisovans. 

The fossils showing that show evidence these humans existed are largely from Siberia and Tibet.

But the genome of this newly discovered skeleton was also linked to a previously unknown divergent human lineage which has never been found anywhere before.

This discovery has posed a challenge to previous theories about the arrival times of different human populations in this region.

Mr Brumm said: “This shows how little we understand about the early human story in the Wallacean islands of Indonesia.

“The ‘Toaleans’ is the name archaeologists have given to a rather enigmatic culture of prehistoric hunter-gatherers that lived in the forested plains and mountains of South Sulawesi between around 8,000 years ago until roughly the fifth century AD.”

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Previous research had suggested the first modern humans used the Wallacea islands as they crossed from Eurasia to the Australian continent more than 50,000 years ago. 

However, the exact route they took is still unknown.

Cave paintings and tools that have been found suggest that humans were living on these islands around 47,000 years ago but due to the tropical climate these records could be inaccurate.

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