160,000 year-old remains of human relative found in Tibet

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This combination of images provided by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig shows two views of a virtual reconstruction of the Xiahe mandible. (Jean-Jacques Hublin, MPI-EVA, Leipzig)
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A handout photo made available by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology on April 29, 2019 shows the Xiahe mandible, only represented by its right half, was found in 1980 in Baishiya Karst Cave. (AFP)
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This undated photo made available by Dr. Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University in April 2019 shows Jiangla Valley in the Gansu province of China. (AP)
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This undated photo made available by Dr. Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University in April 2019 shows the Baishiya Karst Cave above the Jiangla riverbed in the Gansu province of China. (AP)
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The opening of the Baishiya Karst cave, where a fossil jawbone of an extinct member of the human family tree called a Denisovan was discovered, in Xiahe County, Gansu Province, China, is seen in this picture released from Lanzhou University on May 1, 2019. (REUTERS)
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A handout photo made available by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology on May 1, 2019 shows a view of the virtual reconstruction of the Xiahe mandible after digital removal of the adhering carbonate crust, which was found in 1980 in Baishiya Karst Cave. (AFP)
Updated 02 May 2019
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160,000 year-old remains of human relative found in Tibet

  • The right half of a jawbone with teeth is at least 160,000 years old, scientists reported Wednesday in the journal Nature

NEW YORK: Nearly 40 years after it was found by a monk in a Chinese cave, a fossilized chunk of jawbone has been revealed as coming from a mysterious relative of the Neanderthals.
Until now, the only known remains of these Denisovans were a few scraps of bone and teeth recovered in a Siberian cave. DNA from those Siberian fossils showed kinship with Neanderthals. But the remains disclosed little else.
The new discovery was made roughly 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers) to the southeast in Gansu province of China. The right half of a jawbone with teeth is at least 160,000 years old, scientists reported Wednesday in the journal Nature. No DNA could be found, but scientists recovered protein fragments that they compared to the Siberian DNA. That showed the fossil came from a Denisovan.
The find addresses several mysteries. One was why the Siberian DNA indicated Denisovans were adapted to living at high altitudes when the Siberian cave is relatively close to sea level. The Chinese cave, by contrast, is on the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau, about 10,800 feet (3,280 meters) high.
“Now we have an explanation,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, one of the paper’s authors.
In fact, “it’s a big surprise” that any human relative could live in the cold climate and thin air of the plateau at that time, more than 100,000 years before our own species showed up there, he told reporters.
Previous research had indicated that Denisovans must have lived somewhere other than Siberia, because traces of their DNA can be found in several present-day populations of Asia and Australia whose ancestors probably didn’t pass through that region. The new finding expands their known range, although Hublin said it’s still not clear where Denisovans first appeared. They are named for Siberia’s Denisova cave, where the remains were found.
The new work was a long time in coming. The monk who found the fossil in 1980 gave it to a Buddhist leader, who passed it along to Lanzhou University in China. Study of it began in 2010.
The discovery also provides new anatomical details that can be compared to other fossils from China, some of which are “good candidates for being Chinese Denisovans,” Hublin said.
Experts unconnected to the research agreed the fossil could help identify other remains as Denisovan.
“We always assumed ... that Denisovans were distributed all across Asia,” said Bence Viola of the University of Toronto.
The Nature paper points out similarities to a fossil jaw reported in 2015 that had been dredged by a fishing net off the coast of Taiwan. So maybe the Denisovan range can be extended that far south, he said.
Such linking of fossils might eventually reveal Denisovan body shape and size, he said. From the scant known remains “I assume they were large guys, but it’s kind of hard to prove,” Viola said.
In addition to the anatomy, the study’s approach of using protein from the bone or teeth could also be used on fossils to look for evidence of Denisovan identity, said Eric Delson of Lehman College in New York. Even if a fossil is found not to be Denisovan, the analysis could reveal details of how it fits on the evolutionary tree, he said.
“The method potentially tells us a whole new way of looking at fossils,” he said.
Katerina Harvati of the University of Tuebingen in Germany said the ability of Denisovans to adapt to the inhospitable climate of the Tibetan Plateau is remarkable. It adds to growing evidence that our ancient relatives were more capable than scientists had thought, she said.


Stop it! Japan anti-groper app becomes smash hit

Updated 21 May 2019
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Stop it! Japan anti-groper app becomes smash hit

  • The app has been downloaded more than 237,000 times
  • There were nearly 900 groping and other harassment cases on Tokyo trains and subways reported in 2017

TOKYO: A Tokyo police smartphone app to scare off molesters has become a smash hit in Japan, where women have long run the gauntlet of groping on packed rush-hour trains.
Victims of groping can activate the Digi Police app, which either blasts out a voice shouting “stop it” at top volume, or produces a full-screen SOS message — which victims can show other passengers — reading: “There is a molester. Please help.”
The app has been downloaded more than 237,000 times, an “unusually high figure” for a public service app, said police official Keiko Toyamine.
“Thanks to its popularity, the number is increasing by some 10,000 every month,” Toyamine said.
Victims are often too scared to call out for help, she said. But by using the SOS message mode, “they can notify other passengers about groping while remaining silent.”
There were nearly 900 groping and other harassment cases on Tokyo trains and subways reported in 2017, according to the latest available data from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
“But it’s the tip of the iceberg,” Toyamine said, with victims often hesitant to come forward.
Offenders face up to six months in jail or fines of up to ¥500,000 ($5,500 dollars). The potential jail sentence is increased to 10 years if violence or threats are used.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department quietly launched the free Digi Police app three years ago.
It initially aimed to provide information for elderly people, as well as parents and their children about scams or prowlers.
But the function to “repel molesters” was added a few months after the launch.
And an online conversation about the app — caused by a female pop idol being assaulted late last year — resulted in its sudden popularity.
Yui Kimura, a 27-year-old beer shop employee on the nation’s northern island of Hokkaido, says she is always worried about groping whenever she visits the capital. “I tend to be vigilant on Tokyo trains as dodgy men can happen to be in front of me at any time,” Kimura said.
Reina Oishi, a 21-year-old university student in Tokyo, also said: “I want to download the app as I have been groped so many times.”
Experts agree that the app could be a boon for “silent” victims.
“Molesters tend to target those who appear shy and reluctant to lodge a police complaint,” said Akiyoshi Saito, a certified social worker who supported some 800 former molesters during a rehabilitation program.
Groping on trains can occur in any country where trains are frequently crowded, Saito said.
“But the idea that men are superior to women, which is Japan’s traditional bias, may help sustain” sexual harassment on trains in the country, he added.
Awareness of the issue has risen in Japan in recent years, with women exchanging tips on how to avoid the unwanted attention online.
East Japan Railway runs women-only carriages during rush hours and has set up security cameras on some lines notorious for a high rate of groping.