“Basically, the story that we are telling is full of shit,” said Mike Morley, an archaeologist at Flinders University and the lead author of the new study, in an email to Gizmodo.
Well, to be fair to Morley and his colleagues, their story is also full of charcoal fragments, ash, bits of bone, and flakes from stone tools – all of which were dredged from 3 to 4 metres (9 to 13 feet) of sediment at the bottom of two chambers in Denisova Cave.
By performing a micromorphological analysis of all the stuff embedded within this dirt – both geological and biological – the researchers were able to reconstruct a history of habitation in the cave over the course of 300,000 years, a timespan that included no less than three interglacial cycles.
Genetic evidence from 2018 suggests the two groups cohabited and co-mingled in the cave, as evidenced by the discovery of a half-Denisovan, half-Neanderthal individual.
The new research corroborates the previous work done in Denisova Cave, but it also helps to fill in some unknown gaps, showing that archaic humans were not present in the cave for significant swaths of time.
“We already knew from the fossil bone record that other animals were present in the cave, but it was a surprise just how much hyena – and to a lesser extent, wolf – poop there would be in the sediment record,” said Morley.