Artificial Intelligence Finds Missing Ghost Ancestor of Humans

human skull

Our ancestry as a species is intricate and convoluted. We know that Denisovans, Neanderthals, and the other iterations of our hominin ancestors interbred and evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. But while anthropologists have done their best to map out this complicated lineage, we’ve now reached a point in our evolution that machines can map our genealogy better than we can. Such was the case when a machine learning algorithm applied to our DNA roadmap found a new ancestor we didn’t even know existed.

According to a study published in Nature Communications, scientists fed DNA data from fossilized bones and modern humans into an A.I. algorithm that computed thousands of timelines to map out the possible evolutionary pathways based on what we know – or what we think we know – about our ancestors migrations, diasporas, and interbreeding to tell us if we were missing anything.

It turns out we were…

The new study found that a missing, archaic “ghost” ancestor played a significant role in the development of the human species, helping to propel us from primitive hominins to the highly intelligent beings we are today.

This ancestor was likely a hybrid of Neanderthals and the Denisovans – the hominin ancestor discovered in 2010, that five percent of modern humans can still directly trace their genealogy through.

And though the study’s authors are referring to this hominin hybrid as a “ghost” population, they also believe there might be fossil evidence of it found in the bones of a 90,000-year-old specimen of a teenage girl discovered in Siberia’s Denisova cave – the location where the original Denisovan fossils were found.

The discovery of the Denisovans has presented itself as one of the most profound and baffling finds for archeologists within the past decade as their fossil remains showed they existed for millennia alongside our other ancestors. Not to mention they appear to have been massive in comparison to other hominin species.

And by massive, they mean that a Denisovan wisdom tooth found in the cave was originally mistaken for that of a bear’s. And though wisdom teeth can vary in size, the anthropologist studying the specimen, Bence Viola, told National Geographic, “large teeth with massive roots would probably require massive jaws.”

Who were these gigantic Denisovans whom we know so little about, and even more baffling, what did their hybrid progeny with Neanderthal’s look like? These paradigm-shifting discoveries only add to the fact that we still have so much more to learn about our species’ history.

 

For more on the strange discovery of the gigantic Denisovans check out this episode of Ancient Civilizations :



New Telescope May Allow Us to View Alien Planets

James Webb Telescope Alien Planet

As a long-awaited space telescope heads toward liftoff, a new survey of U.S. astronomers and astrophysicists puts the search for habitable planets on the top of their list for the next 10 years. This survey by the national academies of sciences, engineering, and medicine, also spelled out how to ramp up resources including ground and space telescopes.

Astronomer and Gaia News contributor Marc D’Antonio weighed in on the report. “There’s a number of aspects to this report which are very important to take away from the news and that is, number one, professional astronomers, tenured professors, astrophysics schools all are saying ‘We know there’s life out there.’ Number two, they’re saying ‘We want to find it.’”

“This is very important because what we’re seeing is part of the continued shift toward that end of the spectrum. So astronomy and astronomers are being dragged kicking and screaming in some cases, not all, down the path to say ‘We know life exists, and we think we can detect it now, and we’d like to,’ that’s a huge shift, I mean a huge shift,” D’Antonio said.

It seems like people in the general public are open to the idea of off-planet life. Why is this report so significant?

“It is news when you consider that academia has never really bought into that. So when you have a Harvard astrophysicist saying this you see the writing on the wall, academia is going down this path and they’re going to keep going down this path. And they’re going to pursue finding life in the universe.” 

Meanwhile, the much-anticipated James Webb space telescope is scheduled to finally launch this month after a history of postponements and delays.

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