Hominin and animal activities in the microstratigraphic record from Denisova Cave (Altai Mountains, Russia)
Denisova Cave in southern Siberia uniquely contains evidence of occupation by a recently discovered group of archaic hominins, the Denisovans, starting from the middle of the Middle Pleistocene. Artefacts, ancient DNA and a range of animal and plant remains have been recovered from the sedimentary deposits, along with a few fragmentary fossils of Denisovans, Neanderthals and a first-generation Neanderthal-Denisovan offspring. The deposits also contain microscopic traces of hominin and animal activities that can provide insights into the use of the cave over the last 300,000 years. Here we report the results of a micromorphological study of intact sediment blocks collected from the Pleistocene deposits in the Main and East Chambers of Denisova Cave. The presence of charcoal attests to the use of fire by hominins, but other evidence of their activities preserved in the microstratigraphic record are few. The ubiquitous occurrence of coprolites, which we attribute primarily to hyenas, indicates that the site was visited for much of its depositional history by cave-dwelling carnivores. Microscopic traces of post-depositional diagenesis, bioturbation and incipient cryoturbation are observed in only a few regions of the deposit examined here. Micromorphology can help identify areas of sedimentary deposit that are most conducive to ancient DNA preservation and could be usefully integrated with DNA analyses of sediments at archaeological sites to illuminate features of their human and environmental history that are invisible to the naked eye.
Morley, M. W., Goldberg, P., Uliyanov, V. A., Kozlikin, M. B., Shunkov, M. V., Derevianko, A. P., Jacobs, Z. & Roberts, R. G. (2019). Hominin and animal activities in the microstratigraphic record from Denisova Cave (Altai Mountains, Russia). Scientific Reports, 9 (1), 13785-1-13785-12.