Simanaitis Says

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IF I HAD it to do over, I might spell my given name with one “n.” This is partly to honor the Denisovans, close cousins of the Neanderthals and, thus, not unrelated to us modern humans.

This calls for some Internet sleuthing. Not about why my parents chose Dennis (my mom liked the actor Dennis Morgan). No, I mean about Denisovans, as discussed here in Parts 1 and 2, today and tomorrow.

Dennis Morgan, 1908–1994, American actor-singer. A “twinkly-eyed handsome charmer with a shy smile and a pleasant tenor voice in carefree and inconsequential Warner Bros musicals of the forties.” Image from The Hard Way trailer.

All Members of the Human Family. Denisovans and Neanderthals are both, according to Wikipedia, “extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans in the genus Homo,” this last term from the Latin homō, “man.”

We modern folk are Homo sapiens, the only extant branch of the human species; extant so far, that is. By the way, sapien comes from the Latin sapiēns, “discerning, wise, sensible.”

Guess who made that up.

According to Wikipedia, Denisovans and Neanderthals split from our “anatomically modern” lineage about 600,000 to 744,000 years ago. “Denisovans and Neanderthals then significantly diverged from each other genetically a mere 300 generations after that.”

Maybe it was something one of them said. On the other hand, Wikipedia says, “Denisovans may have interbred with modern humans in New Guinea as recently as 15,000 years ago.”

Their Names and Origins. Neanderthals get their species name H. neanderthalensis from the Neanderthal Valley about eight miles east of Düsseldorf, Germany. It was there in 1856 that limestone quarry workers unearthed bits and pieces of what came to be identified as Neanderthal 1. It wasn’t until 2000 that Neanderthal 2 was discovered nearby, and the official subspecies name H. neanderthalensis was applied.

Denisovans get their name from the Denisova Cave in south-central Siberia, near the borders of Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia. And not near much else.

The Denisova Cave, as photographed in 2008. Image by Демин Алексеи Барнаул.

The cave was named after Denis, a Russian hermit who lived there in the 18th century. Maybe he spelled it Денис, though Wikipedia suggests he was an “Old Believer hermit, Dyonisly (Denis).”

I’m sticking with Денис.

“In the 1970s,” says Wikipedia, “Soviet scientists discovered paleoarcheological remains that led to further explorations. So far, 22 strata have been identified, with archeological artifacts that cover the time from Dyonisly back to about 125,000-180,000 years ago…. Denisovans, Neanderthals, and related hybrids may have inhabited the Denisova Cave over thousands of years, but it is unclear whether they ever shared the cave.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll learn of the latest research that even predicts a Denisovan’s physical features.

Just for practice, I’m trying out the following. ds

© Denis Simanaitis,, 2019

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