The new study, which was initiated by Mark Stoneking – an expert in the field of human genetic variation in Southeast Asia and Oceania – is now researching the genetic footprint that the Denisova hominin has left behind in us modern humans. The scientists analysed the genomes of 33 populations living in Southeast Asia and Oceania today, including people from Borneo, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Polynesia. Some of this data were already available and others were recorded in the context of the current study.
The analysis carried out by the researchers shows that the Denisova hominin contributed genetic material not only to the people living in New Guinea today but also to Australian aborigines, the Mamanwa, a Philippine “Negrito” group, and some other populations in eastern Southeast Asia and Oceania. In contrast, western and northwestern groups, including other “Negrito” groups, such as the Onge people who inhabit the Andaman Islands and the Jehai of Malaysia, and the mainland East Asians did not mix with the Denisova people.
The researchers conclude from this that Denisova hominins interbred with modern humans at least 44,000 years ago, before the Australians and inhabitants of New Guinea separated from each other. As opposed to this, Southeast Asia was first colonised by modern humans who were not related to today’s Chinese and Indonesian populations. The latter arrived in the course of subsequent migratory movements. This hypothesis on the settlement of Southeast Asia and Oceania, which is referred to as the “South Route” has already been substantiated by archaeological finds. However, strong support in the form of genetic evidence has yet to be found.
Scientists from the USA, Germany, India, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia and the Netherlands contributed to this study, which was financed by the Max Planck Society and the US National Science Foundation’s HOMINID Program.