This Ancient Girl Was Half Neanderthal and Half Denisovan

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Archaeologists found a bone that paints a pretty interesting picture of our past.

Humans are the only humans at the moment. But that wasn't always the case. Back in the day, we lived among Neanderthals and Denisovans, two other "human" species. And you know what that means: hot inter-species loving.

Once upon a time, a Neanderthal woman met a Denisovan man in what must have been a romantic Russian mountainside tens of thousands of years ago. They got to know each other, probably flirted awkwardly and had some sexy times.

Maybe it was a one-time thing. Maybe they moved in together. Maybe they had a whole Romeo and Juliet adventure. All we know is that nine months later (or however long Neanderthals are pregnant), the woman gave birth to a little girl. When the girl died, one of her bones ended up in a Russian cave. And just recently, according to a new study in Nature, an archaeologist picked it up.

“To find a first-generation person of mixed ancestry from these groups is absolutely extraordinary,” said Pontus Skoglund, a population geneticist at London's Francis Crick Institute. “It’s really great science coupled with a little bit of luck.”

neanderthal, homo sapien, Denisovan

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Scientists have long suspected different human species mated. Most people of European or Asian descent have some Neanderthal DNA. But this is the first time someone actually found a fossil of the offspring.

“We’d almost caught these people in the act," Skoglund said. “It’s a really clear-cut case. I think it’s going to go into the textbooks right away.”

Skoglund didn't even believe his colleagues when they first told him about it.

“I thought they must have screwed up something," Skoglund said.

Despite their surprise, the scientists think these inter-special couples were probably not that weird.

"Neanderthals and Denisovans may not have had many opportunities to meet," explained Svante Pääbo, a Swedish biologist who led the study. "But when they did, they must have mated frequently - much more so than we previously thought."

Modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovan got to know each other pretty well, and records of those steamy nights are written all over our genes. The line between humans and other animals just got a little more blurry.