Scientists announced on Friday that a skull that has been almost perfectly preserved in northeastern China for more than 140,000 years represents a new species of ancient humans. It is even more closely related to us than Neanderthals—and possibly fundamentally. To change our understanding of human evolution.
It belongs to a male with a big head in his 50s with deep sunken eyes and thick eyebrows. Although his face is wide, his cheekbones are flat and low, which makes him more modern than other extinct members of the human family.
The research team linked this specimen to other fossil discoveries in China, and called this species the “dragon man” or “dragon man”, referring to the area where it was found.
The Harbin skull was first discovered in 1933 in the city of the same name, but it was reported that it was hidden in a well for 85 years in order to protect it from the Japanese army.
In 2018, it was dug up and handed over to Ji Qiang, a professor at Hebei University of Geosciences.
“According to our analysis, compared with Neanderthals, Harbin people are more closely related to Homo sapiens – that is, Harbin people are closer to our common ancestor than Neanderthals,” London Natural History Chris Stringer, the museum’s co-author, told AFP.
He said that this will make the dragon people our “sister species” and closer to the ancestors of modern humans than Neanderthals.
The research results were published in three papers in the “Innovation” magazine. The history of the skull can be traced back at least 146,000 years ago, in the Middle Pleistocene.
“Although it shows typical ancient human characteristics, the Harbin skull presents a mosaic combination of primitive and derived characteristics that distinguishes it from all other previously named races,” said Ji, who led the research.
The name comes from Longjiang, which literally means “Longhe”.
As part of a small community, the dragon people may live in a forested floodplain environment.
“These populations were originally hunter-gatherers, living on the land,” Stringer said. “Judging from the winter temperature in Harbin today, they seem to have to deal with a harsher cold than the Neanderthals.”
Given the location of the discovered skull and the big man it implies, the team believes that older people may have adapted well to the harsh environment and can be dispersed throughout Asia.
The future of gene sequencing
The researchers first studied the skull and identified more than 600 features they entered into a computer model that ran millions of simulations to determine the evolutionary history and relationships between different species.
“These indicate that Harbin and some other fossils from China, together with Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, constituted the third lineage of later humans,” Stringer explained.
Other discoveries include a fossilized stone bone from Dali Province, China, which is believed to be 200,000 years old and was discovered in 1978, and a chin found in Tibet dating back to 160,000 years.
Stringer explained that his Chinese colleague decided to name it “Longji people”, which he called “great names”, but he said that he was also willing to call this species “Dali people”, the latter used to The skull of the Dali people.
More than 100,000 years ago, several human species coexisted in Eurasia and Africa, including our own Neanderthals and Denisovans, which are the sister species of the recently discovered Neanderthals. “Dragon Man” may now be added to the list.
Another explanation is that the Elder and Denisovan are actually the same. So far, the fossils of the Denisovans include teeth and bones, but no complete skulls, so scientists are not sure what they look like.
But Neanderthals and Denisovans are genetically closer to each other than to Homo sapiens, and new research shows that elders are more anatomically similar to us than Neanderthals.
Therefore, the lingering uncertainty may require future gene sequencing to help resolve.