Samantha Brown didn’t have high hopes when she opened the ziplock bag containing some 700 shards of bone. It would be a lot of work to analyze them and none was likely to be human, she had been warned.

The fossils were from Denisova Cave (pictured above)—an archaeological site in southern Siberia where, in 2010, scientists had discovered a previously unknown group of ancient humans. Researchers had identified them, whom they named Denisovans, on the basis of DNA preserved in a finger bone, and that finding had made the remote shelter one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

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