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Mysterious Third Group

An artificial intelligence-fueled analysis indicates that a third group of ancient hominins likely interbred with human ancestors, Popular Mechanics reports. It adds that that ancient hominin group may have been a hybrid of Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Researchers from Spain and Estonia used both a deep learning algorithm and statistical approaches to explore human demographics, particularly the evolutionary history of Eurasian populations. As they report this week in Nature Communications, the team led by the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology's Oscar Lao found that, in addition to introgression from Neanderthals and Denisovans, their algorithm suggested that a third hominin also intermixed with Asian and Oceanian populations. It predicted that this unknown hominin group was either a Neanderthal-Denisovan hybrid or diverged early from the Denisovan clade.

They note that the influence of a third hominin group has been theorized, and add that the report this past summer of a girl with Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father leads some credence to the idea of a Neanderthal-Denisovan hybrid group.

"Our theory coincides with the hybrid specimen discovered recently in Denisova, although as yet we cannot rule out other possibilities," first author Mayukh Mondal from University of Tartu says in a statement.