Scientists have announced the discovery of a new ancient human species, a long-lost relative of Homo sapiens. This new link could change the researchers’ perspective on the evolution of our species. Homo longi, which translates as ‘Dragon Man’, seems to be our closest relative and would displace Neanderthals as our nearest link.
Evidence found by researchers at the Chinese University of Science shows a fossilized skull that is at least 140,000 years old. The fossil, named the ‘Harbin skull,’ is considered one of the most complete archaic human fossils that provides critical evidence for studying the diversification of the human species. However, the disorganized recovery of the fossil and the long and confusing history has prevented its precise dating.
The closest relative of the Homo sapiens
According to reports, the fossil was discovered in 1933 during construction work on the Dongjiang Bridge over the Songhua River in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin. The story of how it came to researchers is long and confusing, so there is no information on the exact geographic origin of the skull. But using geochemical tests they were able to obtain reliable evidence and claim that it belongs to a new species never discovered before. The researchers decided to name this new human species Homo longi, which translated from Chinese means ‘Dragon Man’, due to the region where the skull was allegedly discovered.
The skull belonged to a mature man, approximately 50 years old, and is believed to have died between 146,000 and 269,000 years ago. Its characteristics astonish experts, as they are a mixture of archaic and modern humans. On the one hand, it presents very pronounced and thick eyebrows, as well as a wide mouth just like Neanderthals. On the other hand, it also shows a face very similar to a version of a modern human face, although much larger.
Reconstruction of the appearance of ‘Homo longi’, or dragon man. Credits: Chuang Zhao
It is precisely because of this last characteristic that it is believed to be closer to Homo sapiens (our species) than any other archaic relative. Since its skull has a considerably larger size than any other known human genus, it is believed that it could have housed a brain of the same size as ours.
A series of clues found in Asia
For some decades now, researchers have found fossil remains in Asia of a species that does not fit with Neanderthals nor Homo sapiens. The unsolved enigma may now have a clear answer. The scientists responsible for the discovery of Homo longi, say that all these fossils could belong to this newly cataloged species.
Homo longi would then be the closest species to ours in the evolutionary chain. This means that Neanderthals would be displaced from this site, as they propose that the separation of these and Homo sapiens occurred 400 thousand years earlier than previously thought.
Skeptics of the case
Even though the researchers’ statements have excited the scientific community, there is a group that is still reluctant to take their findings as valid. The main reason is the unorthodox recovery of the fossil and the long time that elapsed since it was discovered by the Chinese workers until today.
Reconstruction of the appearance of ‘Homo longi,’ or dragon man. Credits: Chuang Zhao
However, this and other fossils found in China show us that the evidence for the emergence of consciousness as we know it today no longer belongs exclusively to Africa, as previously believed. Rather there may have been migrations of the human species from Asia to Africa.
Text courtesy of Ecoosfera
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