Dr. Zachwieja and a team of researchers discover Denisovan molar in the Annamite Mountains in northern Laos

Alexandra Zachwieja, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus, co-authored an article in Nature Communications by Demeter et al. entitled "A Middle Pleistocene Denisovan molar from the Annamite Chain of northern Laos" in which the research team described the discovery of a ~164-131,000-year-old molar from Tam Ngu Hao 2 (Cobra Cave), belonging to a young girl that shares morphological affinities with other Denisovan specimens from the Tibetan Plateau. The molar represents the first discovery of a Denisovan in a tropical environment, suggesting that this hominin could broadly adapt to different environmental conditions, a trait modern humans share.

The tooth was excavated from breccia (a fossiliferous cement) among many Middle Pleistocene animal teeth. Cobra Cave (beyond being named for the snakes that inhabit it) could only be reached by climbing a system of ropes up the face of Pa Hang Mountain and then creatively squeezing through a small entrance (~16in square). Dr. Zachwieja excavated and removed teeth from breccia from Cobra Cave with other researchers, during the 2018 field season, and was among the paleoanthropologists who identified the reported tooth as genus Homo. Dr. Zachwieja has been involved in the Pa Hang excavations since 2014, as well as in the discovery of multiple hominin remains in these sites.

 The discovery of the tooth was reported in the following news media:

CNN, "Cave discovery in Laos could unlock more about human evolution's biggest mystery"
Katie Hunt, May 17, 2022

National Geographics, "Tooth from mysterious human relative adds new wrinkles to their story"
Maya Wei-Haas and Michael Greshko, May 17, 2022

The New York Times, "Tooth of an Ancient Girl Fills Gap in Human Family Tree"
Carl Zimmer, May 17, 2022

Bring Me The News., "Minnesota researcher part of team behind 'revolutionary' discovery of ancient tooth in Laos"
Christine Schuster, May 19, 2022

Kare 11 interview with Dr. Alexandra Zachwieja, "Ancient tooth in Laos cave a major find for human history"
Chris Hrapsky, Published: May 20, 2022, Updated: May 22, 2022

 

Share this post

Related News