Talk about mixed families. A 13-year-old girl who died about 50,000 years ago was the child of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan.
Researchers already knew that the two extinct human cousins and nieces interbred (SN Online 14-03-2016). But the girl, known as Denisova 11 from a bone fragment that was found earlier in the Denisova cave in Siberia, is the only hybrid of the first generation ever to be found.
Genetic analyzes revealed that the girl had inherited 38.6 percent of her DNA and her mitochondrial DNA from a Neandertal, which means her mother was Neandertal. Her father was Denisovan and contributed 42.3 percent of the girl's DNA, Viviane Slon of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and colleagues reported on August 22 in Nature. The girl's father also had Neandertal ancestors, but long ago in his descent, about 300 to 600 generations before his birth.
Although the remains of the girl in Siberia have been found, her Neanderthal DNA more closely resembles a Western European Neanderthal from the Vindija Cave in Croatia – thousands of kilometers to the west – than an older Neanderthal from the same cave as the girl. This finding may mean that eastern Neanderthals spread somewhere in Western Europe some 90,000 years ago, or that western Neanderthals abandoned them and in 90,000 years ago invaded Eastward to Siberia and partially replaced the Neanderthals who lived there. Researchers have to test more DNA from Western European Neanderthals to determine which scenario is correct.