The skull of a “dragon man” prompts us to rethink evolution

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An artistic representation of “the dragon man”. [Photo/Agencies]

A well-preserved skull, colloquially known as the “dragon man” from China, made headlines around the world and has been described as one of the most revolutionary, important and most groundbreaking scientific discoveries. exciting events in the world, as global institutions review the progress made over the past year.

Apparently unearthed in 1933 when Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, was under Japanese occupation, the skull was found during the construction of a bridge over the Songhua River. To protect himself, the man who found the fossil hid it at the bottom of an abandoned well.

The skull was not brought to light until the third generation of the anonymous family member learned of the secret before his death.

Discoveries that could lead to rethinking human evolution have been made since the skull was donated in 2018 to the Hebei University GEO Geoscience Museum in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province.

This year, an international research team, of which Ji Qiang, professor of paleontology at Hebei GEO University, was the lead scientist, classified the skull as belonging to a new species: Homo longi. They believe the fossil provided crucial evidence for the study of the origin and evolution of Homo sapiens, the species to which all living humans belong.

The team’s findings were published in The Innovation journal in June.

According to a press release from the university this month, a full phylogenetic analysis of the team revealed that the Harbin skull and some other archaic East Asian human fossils belong to an evolutionary clade, or group. natural, having the same last ancestor as Homo sapiens.

It is widely believed that the Neanderthals formed a sister group to the Homo sapiens lineage. However, Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, who was also a member of the team, said: “Our analysis suggests that the Harbin skull and other human fossils from the Middle Pleistocene of China form a third lineage of ‘East Asia. which is actually closer to H. sapiens than are the Neanderthals. “

CNN has listed “the dragon man” among the six “most revolutionary discoveries in human prehistory that shape the family tree in fascinating and unexpected ways.”

The skull “could represent a whole new type of human,” he said.

The hope is to extract the DNA or other genetic material from the fossil to learn more about it, especially if it may represent the Denisovans, an enigmatic human population, CNN reported.

The Public Library of Science, a United States-based nonprofit publisher of science, technology, and medicine, has named the skull findings as one of the top seven evolutionary findings. human in 2021, stating: “The story behind the discovery of this skull is fascinating!”

Smithsonian Magazine, the official journal of the Smithsonian Institution, a renowned American museum and research complex, named “Dragon Man” as one of the 10 Most Important Science Stories of 2021.

“The skull backstory that scientists used to suggest there was a new species of late Pleistocene human, joining Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, has caused a lot of ink to flow,” the magazine said.

He also said, however, that the debate over whether the discovery of “dragon man” warrants designation as a new species would likely continue until more fossils are found that help bridge the gap. gaps in the history of human evolution.

Ji, the lead scientist of the “Dragon Man” research team, said he hoped for more discoveries.

In a press conference held after his team’s studies were published, Ji said that even as the number of human species is decreasing, the populations are getting larger and larger. As a result, only one human species lives today.

“I look forward to researching new human fossils, especially the common ancestor of Homo longi and Homo sapiens in East Asia, and even more so in China, in order to promote international research on the origin of Homo sapiens, “he said.

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