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

1 / 6
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)
2 / 6
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)
3 / 6
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)
4 / 6
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)
5 / 6
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)
6 / 6
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

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.


Taj Mahal damaged in deadly India thunderstorm

Updated 31 May 2020

Taj Mahal damaged in deadly India thunderstorm

  • India’s top tourist attraction has been shut since mid-March as part of measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic

AGRA, India: A deadly thunderstorm that rolled across parts of northern India damaged sections of the Taj Mahal complex, including the main gate and a railing running below its five lofty domes, officials said Sunday.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, India’s top tourist attraction has been shut since mid-March as part of measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic.
AFP images showed workers assessing the railing of the main mausoleum, after the storm on Friday night battered Agra city in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
“One sandstone railing which was a part of the original structure has been damaged,” Superintending Archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, said.
“One marble railing which was a later addition, a false ceiling in the tourist holding area and the base stone of the main gate has also been damaged.”
He added there was no damage to the main structure of the monument to love — built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth in 1631.
Local media reports said thunderstorms and lightning on Friday killed at least 13 people in two Uttar Pradesh districts.
Fatal lightning strikes are relatively common during the June-October monsoon season.
Last year, at least 150 people were killed by lightning in August and September in Madhya Pradesh state in central India.