The earliest DNA sample of a human species that roamed the earth was found in a cave in Northern Spain. The site was called the Sima de los Huesos. The individual from whose fossilized femur bone the sample was collected had been some 400,000 years old. The very primitive person it came from was a Denisovan.
Denisovans were the extinct eastern relatives of the Neanderthals. Until now such ancient DNA has only been found buried deep within the permafrost of Siberia. Yet here it was found in a Spanish cave which was 4000 miles away from the original provenance in the cold atmosphere of Siberia.
"Our results show that we can now study DNA from human ancestors that are hundreds of thousands of years old. This opens prospects to study the genes of the ancestors of Neandertals and Denisovans. It is tremendously exciting" says Svante Pääbo, director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
The pit of bones where the samples were found had many more remains of early humans. Up until now the oldest DNA found was 100,000 years old. But with this 400,000 year old DNA sample the puzzle has been reset and has to be solved all over again.
What was considered as the last word on this issue has to be re-examined willy-nilly. It may lead to a missing link being found among the many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is evolution. The discovery has caused a lot of excitement at the Max Planck institute where the DNA was analyzed.