Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
Nikolai Peristov, a Russian artist who carves jewellery from ancient mammoth tusks, helped science unintentionally! In 2008, Peristov was looking for ivory along Siberia’s Irtysh River when he noticed a bone jutting from the riverbank. He dug it out and showed it to a police forensic scientist, who identified it as probably human.
The bone turned out to be a human left femur, and eventually made it to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where researchers carbon-dated it. It was a 45-year-old leg bone from Siberia and it has yielded the oldest genome sequence for Homo sapiens on record — revealing a mysterious population that may once have spanned northern Asia. The DNA sequence from a male hunter-gatherer also offers tantalizing clues about modern humans’ journey from Africa to Europe, Asia and beyond, as well as their sexual encounters with Neanderthals. “It was quite fossilized, and the hope was that it might turn out old. We hit the jackpot,” says Bence Viola, a palaeoanthropologist who co-led the study of the remains. “It was older than any other modern human yet dated.” The luck continued when Viola’s colleagues found that the bone contained well-preserved DNA, and they sequenced its genome to the same accuracy as that achieved for contemporary human genomes (1, 2).
The researchers named their find Ust’-Ishim, after the district where Peristov found the remains. They dated him to between 43,000 and 47,000 years old, nearly twice the age of the next-oldest known complete modern-human genome, although older, archaic-human genomes exist.