Today’s Famous Friday is about the first multiracial human. Her name is Denny and archaeologists found a bone that paints a pretty interesting picture of our past. Apparently, there used to be two divisions of humans—Neanderthals and Denisovans. A fossil of their offspring was found in the Russian mountainside tens of thousands of years ago. The two divisions did not have the opportunity to meet frequently and some archaeologists questioned the find, but it was confirmed by biologists who led the study.

“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.” Denny died around 90,000 years ago according to genome analysis of the bone. By sequencing the sex chromosomes, the researchers determined that the bone fragment came from a female, and the thickness of it suggested she was at least 13 years old. The DNA fragments made it clear that Denny was the direct offspring of two distinct humans. The results convincingly demonstrate that the specimen is indeed a first-generation hybrid.

With a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father, scientists are still debating what they should call the new specimen, shying away from the term “hybrid.” Defining a species in the natural world is not always clear-cut and it’s interesting to see long-running debates about how to categorize organisms when they are applied to humans. Some things never change and debates about multiracial terminology are still going on!

Susan Graham


Project RACE