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New species of ancient human 'discovered'

world Updated: Mar 25, 2010 17:17 IST

In what could rewrite the history of humanity's spread around the world, scientists have discovered a new species of ancient human which lived side-by-side with the Neanderthals as recently as 30,000 years ago.

An international team claims to have identified the extinct "hominin" (human like creature) as the first human cousin from a DNA sample -- extracted from a bone fragment of a little finger found two years ago in a Siberian cave.

In fact, the scientists have sequenced the genetic material from the fossil of the creature, nicknamed "X-woman", to show that it is very distinct from that of Neanderthals and modern humans.

Professor Chris Stringer, human origins researcher at London's Natural History Museum, called the discovery "a very exciting development".

"This new DNA work provides an entirely new way of looking at the still poorly understood evolution of humans in central and east Asia. It looks like nature was experimenting in how to be human, and we're the last survivors," the British media quoted Stringer as saying.

The discovery also raises the intriguing possibility that three forms of human - Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and the species represented by X-woman - could have met each other and interacted in southern Siberia, say the scientists.

In fact, the tiny fragment of bone from a fifth finger, dated to between 48,000 and 30,000 years old, was uncovered by archaeologists working at the Denisova Cave in Siberia's Altai Mountains in 2008, where modern humans and Neanderthals are known to have lived at the same time.