According to researchers, a large skull discovered in China
may be from a close relative of modern humans.
According to the scientists, who published their findings in the journal The Innovation
on Friday, the previously unknown species of extinct ancient human, dubbed Homo longi or “Dragon Man,” could replace Neanderthals as the closest relative to modern Homo sapiens.
The Harbin cranium, a nearly perfect preserved skull, is over 146,000 years old.
Researchers believe the skull was discovered in 1933 during the construction of a bridge
across the Songhua River in China's Heilongjiang province, but it was only recently studied. It had been wrapped up and hidden down an abandoned well by a farmer working on the bridge, who finally told his grandchildren of its existence on his deathbed in 2018 and turned it over to a university
Some of Dragon Man's characteristics are strikingly similar to those of modern humans, according to Chris Stringer, a researcher at London
's Natural History
Museum and one of the authors of the studies on the fossil.
In a statement, he said, “It has flat and low cheekbones... and the face appears reduced and tucked under the brain
The skull, which is about 9 inches long and more than 6 inches wide, is also large enough to hold a brain similar to that of modern humans, and researchers believe it belonged to a 50-year-old male.
“This is one of the most important fossils
discovered in the last million years,” Stringer told BBC News
“What you have here is a separate branch of humanity that is not on its way to becoming Homo sapiens (our species), but represents a long-separate lineage that evolved in the region for several hundred thousand years before going extinct,” Stringer added.
Other researchers aren't sure where Dragon Man fits in the human family
tree, or if he even represents a distinct species.
Xijun Ni, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hebei GEO University in Shijiazhuang, the study's lead author, is convinced: "We found our long-lost sister lineage."
“It is widely assumed that the Neanderthal belongs to an extinct lineage that is the closest relative of our own species,” he explained, “but our discovery suggests that the new lineage we identified, which includes Homo longi, is the actual sister group of Homo sapiens.”
Chinese researchers have discovered an ancient skull that may have belonged to a completely new species of human https://t.co/Ve5raGIwFG
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) June 25, 2021
Scientists believe Dragon Man was a powerfully built individual, but little is known about how he lived because his skull was removed from the site where it was discovered, preventing scientists from searching for tools and food
associated with Dragon Man, which would help to tell the story of his life.