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Homo ghostus

September 27, 2014

I reported in an earlier post that Homo sapiens once shared the world with at least four other hominins: four other species of upright, tool-making, fire-burning people. The four are Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Flores hobbits (Homo floresiensis), and the Denisova hominins. We know of the Denisovans only from a single fossilized finger bone, or possibly two fossils. Scientists identified them as a separate species through extracted DNA. Well, now we’ve got evidence of a fifth species in the Lord of the Rings world of prehistory, and it’s more mysterious even than the Denisovans. That’s because we have no fossils for the fifth species.

Where would we even start looking for Homo ghostus fossils?

Where would we even start looking for Homo ghostus fossils?

Analysis of the Denisova hominin genome suggests that the Denisovans interbred with yet another species of hominins: someone new to us. The Denisovans, in other words, carried genes that don’t quite fit: genes from someone else — from a ghost people, about whom we know nothing.

Denisovans interbred with Homo sapiens too, and their genes show up particularly frequently among Southeast Asians, southern Chinese, and Pacific Islanders. So through Denisovan ancestors, modern humans probably carry the ghost people’s genes too.

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I took the liberty of naming the new people Homo ghostus. It’s not official!

Photo: Distant Hills, by AlbertHerring — provided through Wikimedia Commons

© 2014 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

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