The remains of a Pleistocene woman have appeared in a Deposit located in the cave of Satsurblia, in Georgia. So far everything seems normal. It is not the first and it will not be the last. But there is something that makes this find very special and it is the fact that no bones were found. In fact, there was no trace of her, what they found were remains of Ancient DNA in a clay cup that had been kept underground.
As if that were not enough, the story is great news, because that woman belongs to a previously unknown group of modern humansus. And the thing does not stop there. They also found genetic material from a wolf and a bison. The first also belongs to a lineage that was not known until now and that is already extinct. The second is much more related to current bison.
All this shows that, in reality, new pieces can be placed in the puzzle of the history of the species without the need to find bones. Let’s see how they did it.
The genome of a Pleistocene woman
The cave in which the discovery took place is known to have many evidence of its use by hominids, but few bones preserved in it.
This has always been seen as a problem, as generally the most common way to find ancient DNA is through the bones. This is not easy either. First of all, you have to find them and, later, not all of them work, since any remaining genetic material may have been degraded. The lucky it is also important.
However, some weapons or tools they survive much better than bones over time. Also, DNA can be found in places like animal feces or bone fragments ground to powder.
In search of this type of trace, the authors of a study that was just published in Current Biology chose to dig and sift six soil samples from the caveto. In this way, they found Mitochondrial DNA from three individuals. The genetic material was quite deteriorated, but they were able to rescue enough to sequence part of its genome and determine that it was a Pleistocene woman, a wolf and a bison.
What ancient DNA tells
Mitochondrial DNA is what, instead of in the nucleus, is found inside the mitochondria. These are the organelles in which the energy necessary for the proper functioning of cells is generated and they house DNA inherited through the mother.
These scientists first analyzed the human sample, attached to the remains of a clay cup. They saw that it was a female individual, from ago 25,000 years, so it was a Pleistocene woman. While the previously unknown group to which he belonged is already Extinct, comparison with the genome of current humans shows that it contributed to the Today’s European and Asian populations.
The same goes for the wolf. In fact, the analysis of their genome and that of the skeletal remains found in other sites shows that wolf populations were remarkably remodeled ago. about 11,000 years.
The case of the bison is different, since its genome does have great similarity with that of current populations. You can’t know much more. It is not even possible to know if the three individuals lived together in the cave.
But this is only the beginning. It is estimated that this place was frequented by hominids for thousands of years. Therefore, the logical thing would be to find more ancient DNA, like that of this Pleistocene woman. After all, they have already verified that bones are not as necessary as they thought.