‘Dragon man’ specimen may replace Neanderthals as our nearest ancestor

The specimen belongs to a human group that lived in East Asia nearly 146,000 years ago.

specimen

Chinese scientists have unveiled an ancient skull that belongs to an entirely new species of human.

The team of researchers has claimed that it is the nearest evolutionary relative among the known species of ancient humans, such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus.

Nicknamed “Dragon Man,” the specimen belongs to a human group that lived in East Asia nearly 146,000 years ago.

The skull was found at Harbin, north-east China, in 1933 but only caught the attention of scientists more recently. It was handed to a Chinese professor at Hebei GEO University, Ji Qiang, in 2018.

An analysis of the skull has been published in the journal The Innovation.

One of England’s leading experts in human evolution, Professor Chris Stringer, was a member of the research team.

Speaking to a source, Stringer said, “It has been revealed in our analysis that the Harbin shared a more recent common ancestor with us than the Neanderthals did.”

“If the recently discovered specimen is regarded as a distinct species, then this is our sister (most closely related) species.”

It has a brain comparable to modern humans but with more open eye sockets, a wide mouth, thick brow ridges, and oversized teeth.

The name is derived from the Chinese word Long Jiang, which means “Dragon River.”

The team believes the skull belonged to a 50-year-old male living in a forested floodplain.

Scientists also believed that the population would have been hunter-gatherers living off the land. From the winter temperatures in Harbin today, it seems like they were coping with even harsher cold than the Neanderthals.

Family tree

Researchers first examined the outer morphology of the skull using over 600 characteristics and then ran millions of tests using a computer model to create trees of relatedness to other specimens.

The simulations hint that Harbin and some other fossils from China constitute a third lineage of later humans besides the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.

If Homo sapiens had arrived in East Asia when the Homo longi was present, they might have interbred, though it’s not clear.

However, the finding could still reshape the perception of human evolution.

Stringer concluded, “It forms a third human lineage in East Asia with its individual evolutionary history and explicates how significant the region was for evolution.” 

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