The discovery of the creature nicknamed “X-woman” has to rank as one of the most exciting science stories of the year so far. She — if X-woman is indeed a “she” — is known only from a little finger bone, found in a Siberian cave and dated to between 48,000 and 30,000 years ago. But according to a research team led by Johannes Krause and Svante Pääbo, of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, she may represent an entirely new human species.
At the time X-woman lived, the only hominins known in Eurasia were modern humans and Neanderthals (Homo floresiensis, the “Hobbits”, were also around in Indonesia). Yet analysis of mitochondrial DNA from the bone has suggested that X-woman belongs to neither species (the nickname, incidentally, was chosen because mitochondrial DNA is passed down the female line — there is no indication of sex just yet).
Krause and Pääbo believe that this suggests the creature belongs to a new lineage of humans, and perhaps to a new species. As Pääbo put it:
“Whatever carried this DNA out of Africa is some new creature that has not been on our radar screens. It suggests there were perhaps three different families of humans in this area about 40,000 years ago, and also the hobbits in Indonesia.”
Read the rest of this interesting article from TimesOnline here.