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Scientists say ‘Dragon Man’ human species may be our closest ancestor

Scientists say 'Dragon Man' human species may be our closest ancestor

Meet “Dragon Man,” a member of a newly discovered species of human who could be our closest ancestor.

Scientists announced Friday that a mammoth fossilized skull — discovered at the bottom of a well in northeastern China in 2018 — could be more closely related to modern humans than Neanderthals, Agence France-Presse reported.

The so-called Harbin skull was reportedly first discovered in the 1930s in the Chinese city of the same name in Heilongjiang province — but was then hidden for about 85 years to protect it from the Japanese army.

It was later dug up and handed over in 2018 to Ji Qiang, a professor at Hebei GEO University.

On Friday, scientists made the thrilling announcement in a new study that the well-preserved cranium belonged to a previously unknown species of ancient human who lived in East Asia at least 146,000 years ago.

“On our analyses, the Harbin group is more closely linked to H. sapiens than the Neanderthals are — that is, Harbin shared a more recent common ancestor with us than the Neanderthals did,” co-author Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London told AFP.

Scientists have illustrated of a portrait of Dragon Man.
Scientists have created a portrait of Dragon Man.
CHUANG ZHAO/EUREKALERT!/AFP via Getty Images

“If these are regarded as distinct species, then this is our sister (most closely related) species,” Stringer added.

The scientists named the new hominin Homo longi, which is derived from Heilongjiang, or Black Dragon River, the province where the skull was found — and also dubbed the ancient forebear “Dragon Man.”

His skull dates back at least 146,000 years, placing it in the Middle Pleistocene, though it could be as old as 309,000 years, according to geochemical analysis, according to CNN and AFP.

Scientists announced that a skull discovered in Northeast China represents a newly discovered human species they have named Homo longi or "Dragon Man."
Scientists announced that a skull discovered in northeast China represents a newly discovered human species they have named Homo longi or “Dragon Man.”
CHUANG ZHAO/EUREKALERT!/AFP via Getty Images

The cranium — which is believed to have belonged to a male around 50 years old — could hold a brain comparable in size to that of modern humans but with larger eye sockets, thick brow ridges, a wide mouth and oversize teeth.

“While it shows typical archaic human features, the Harbin cranium presents a mosaic combination of primitive and derived characters setting itself apart from all the other previously named Homo species,” said Ji, a co-author of the study.

The findings were published in the journal The Innovation.

“This population would have been hunter-gatherers, living off the land,” Stringer told AFP. “From the winter temperatures in Harbin today, it looks like they were coping with even harsher cold than the Neanderthals.”

The researchers first studied the external morphology of the skull using over 600 traits, and then ran millions of simulations using a computer model that examined the connection to other fossils.

“These suggest that Harbin and some other fossils from China form a third lineage of later humans alongside the Neanderthals and H. sapiens,” Stringer explained.

Scientists say that the "Dragon Man" may replace Neanderthals as our closest relatives.
Scientists say the Dragon Man may replace Neanderthals as our closest relatives.
KAI GENG/EUREKALERT!/AFP via Getty Images

If Homo sapiens had reached East Asia at the time Homo longi roamed the Earth, they might have interbred — though this remains unclear.

There also are also many answered questions about their culture and technology level, but the finding could still reshape our understanding of human evolution.

“It establishes a third human lineage in East Asia with its own evolutionary history and shows how important the region was for human evolution,” Stringer noted.

About the author

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James Partridge

James has worked in various news organizations and now aims to make Stock Market Pioneer one of the best and fastest growing news websites in the U.S. He contributes to the US and World sections.

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