Experts at the institute published the sensational discovery on Wednesday in scientific journal “Nature,” comparing the genetic makeup of the Neanderthal species.
According to the article, the bone fragment was found by Russian researchers in 2008 in an isolated Siberian cave in the Altai Mountains, but they assumed that it was “nondescript.”
But DNA testing showed something different.
“The genetic data...reveal that the bone may belong to a previously unrecognised, extinct human species that migrated out of Africa long before our known relatives,” the magazine reported, adding that this suggests Ice Age humans were more diverse than previously believed.
While experts outside the study warned against jumping to conclusions about a new species, further research could mark the first time a new one has been found from DNA alone, the magazine said.
Svante Pääbo, the study's senior author and the director of evolutionary genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, tested the bone fragment's DNA sequences against others found in the region 156 times for accuracy.
The institute is now attempting to sequence the fragment's entire DNA genome, the article said. If they succeed, it will be the oldest human genome ever sequenced.
"It is clear we stand just in the beginning of many fascinating developments," Pääbo said.