Steven Mithen, 13 September 2018
Sometimes the surprise is in discovering just how much we don’t know. In 2008 a bone from a child’s little finger was found in Denisova Cave in the Atlai Mountains of Siberia. Few other bones were found and it was therefore unclear whether the finger bone came from a modern human or from a Neanderthal; what’s more, the deposits were mixed up, and it wasn’t clear how, or if, the bones were associated with the stone artefacts also found in the cave. In the days before DNA analysis, Denisova Cave would have been just another archaeological site, with little new to tell us. But in the event part of the finger bone was sent to Svante Pääbo’s laboratory, and our knowledge of human evolution changed for ever.