An unknown hominin species that bred with early human ancestors when they migrated from Africa to Australasia has been identified through genome mapping of living humans.
The genome analysis also questions previous findings that modern humans populated Asia in two waves from their origin in Africa, finding instead a common origin for all populations in the Asia-Pacific region, dating back to a single out-of-Africa migration event.
Modern humans first left Africa about 60,000 years ago, with some heading west towards Europe, and others flowing east into the Asia-Pacific region.
Previous research looking at the genomes of people living today has revealed that the Asia-Pacific arrivals mated with two hominin species they found there – the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.
Homo erectus may seem like a step down, but who knows how long men have been brewing beer?
But when Jaume Bertranpetit at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain and his colleagues analysed the genomes of living Indigenous Australians, Papuans, people from the Andaman Islands near India, and from mainland India, they found sections of DNA that did not match any previously identified hominin species.
These DNA sequences are not present in the genomes of living Europeans or east Asians, suggesting that the ancestors of these people met and bred with a mystery hominin in south Asia or the Pacific region, who left their genetic legacy in the area’s present-day populations.
The unidentified hominin may be Homo erectus or “upright man”, says Bertranpetit. H. erectus is believed to be the first hominin with a similar stature to today’s humans, and the first to leave Africa.