Archaeological breakthrough: 146,000-year-old fossil could be a new human species | Sciences | New


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About 88 years ago, an almost intact giant human skull was discovered. Yet he was not known until just three years ago. A construction worker made the discovery while helping to build a bridge over the Songhua River, which crosses Harbin in China’s Heilongjang Province. When translated, it means Black Dragon River, hence the discovery was called “Homo longi” or “Dragon Man”.

At the time – 1933 – Harbin was under Japanese rule. The construction worker smuggled it home, suspecting it had significant cultural value.

He hid it deep in his family’s well, only telling them on his deathbed, which is how he came to the hands of scientists.

Some scientists, analyzing the skull for the first time this year, believe the skull could represent a whole new human species.

Xijun Ni, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was part of the team that studied the skull.

He said: “This is a truly amazing discovery. It is one of the most complete skulls I have ever seen.

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An artist’s impression of the appearance of Dragon Man. (Image: GETTY)

dragon man

Dragon Man’s skull suggests he was mighty built and sturdy. (Image: GETTY)

Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum in London, told New Scientist in June: “This is the biggest human skull I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a few!

The analysis, published in the journal The Innovation, said it was “one of the best-preserved archaic human fossils” and would be of “great importance” in helping to understand the origin of Homo sapiens.

The species to which all living human beings belong is Homo sapiens.

The analysis continued: “It represents a new human lineage evolving in East Asia and is placed as a member of the sister group of Homo sapiens.

“A combination of primitive and derived features in the Harbin skull establishes a good set of diagnostic features that have been used to define a new species of Homo.”

The evolution of the human skull

The former human on the far left may have evolved into Dragon Man on the far right over time. (Image: GETTY)

Professor Stringer, one of Britain’s leading experts in human evolution, emphasized the importance of Dragon Man.

He told BBC News: “In terms of fossils from the last million years, this is one of the largest ever discovered.

“What you have here is a separate branch of humanity that is not on its way to becoming Homo sapiens, but represents a long, separate lineage that evolved in the region for several hundred thousand years and eventually died out. . “

The discovery, the researchers say, could rewrite the history of human evolution.

It is believed to be more closely related to Homo sapiens than to Neanderthals, an extinct species of archaic humans that lived in Eurasia until around 40,000 years ago.

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The huge skull of the dragon man

The huge skull of Dragon Man, with huge eye sockets. (Image: GETTY)

Compared to the average skull seen in other human species, Dragon Man’s was huge, but his brain was comparable in size to our species.

Researchers believe the skull belonged to a man, who was around 50 when he died.

Other features also stand out. He had large, almost square eye sockets and a wide mouth with oversized teeth.

Professor Stringer, speaking to New Scientist, analyzed the skull: “It has such an interesting combination of features.

“The morphology shows that this is indeed a distinct line in East Asia. It’s not Neanderthal and it’s not Homo sapiens, it’s something quite distinctive.

dragon man

It is believed that Dragon Man roamed the Earth at least 146,000 years ago. (Image: GETTY)

Little is known about how Dragon Man is said to have lived, as his skull was removed from the site where he was originally found.

Unfortunately, there is currently no archaeological context.

Much debate remains within the scientific community as to whether these remains could have come from a human group called the Denisovans, rather than being an entirely new species.

The Denisovans were first identified from DNA recovered from a 50,000 to 30,000 year old finger found in Russia.

Denisovan’s skulls have so far proven to be very difficult to find, although a jawbone was discovered in Tibet in 2019.

Professor Stringer continued, “I think it’s possible that Harbin turns out to be a Denisovan skull, the most complete.

“It’s something we’ll have to test with DNA, but it’s probably a long way since it’s at least 146,000 years old.”

Chinese researchers argue, however, that these fossils from Asia could represent the gradual evolution of a new species.

Dr Ni told BBC News: ‘The results will spark a lot of debate and I’m sure a lot of people won’t agree with us.

“But it’s science and it’s because we don’t agree that science is advancing.”


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