An almost perfectly preserved skull for more than 140,000 years in northeast China represents a new species of ancient people more closely related to us than even Neanderthals, and could fundamentally alter our understanding of human evolution, they said. announced scientists on Friday.
It belonged to a male with a large brain about fifty years old, with deep eyes and thick crests. Although his face was broad, he had low, flat cheekbones that made him look more like modern people than other extinct members of the human family tree.
The research team has linked the specimen to other Chinese fossils and calls the species Homo longi or “Dragon Man”, a reference to the region where it was discovered.
Harbin’s skull was first found in 1933 in the city of the same name, but was reportedly hidden in a well for 85 years to protect it from the Japanese army.
It was later unearthed and handed over to Ji Qiang, a professor at Hebei GEO University, in 2018.
“According to our analysis, the Harbin group is more closely related to Homo sapiens than Neanderthals, meaning Harbin shared with us a more recent common ancestor than Neanderthals,” said co-author Chris Stringer of Natural History Museum of London. he told AFP.
He said this would make Dragon Man our “sister species” and an ancestor closer to modern man than Neanderthals.
The findings were published in three articles in The Innovation magazine. The skull dates back at least 146,000 years, placing it in the middle Pleistocene.
“While showing typical archaic human traits, Harbin’s skull features a combination of mosaics of primitive and derived characters that differ from all other previous homo species,” said Ji, who led the research.
The name derives from Long Jiang, which literally means “Dragon River”.
Dragon Man probably lived in an environment of wooded floodplains as part of a small community.
“This population would have been hunter-gatherers, living off the land,” Stringer said. “From today’s winter temperatures in Harbin, it looks like they were facing an even harsher cold than the Neanderthals.”
Given the location where the skull was found, as well as the large man involved, the team believes Homo longi could have been well adapted to harsh environments and would have been able to disperse through all of Asia.
Future genetic sequencing
The researchers first studied the skull, identifying more than 600 traits that fed into a computer model that performed millions of simulations to determine evolutionary history and relationships between different species.
“This suggests that Harbin and some other fossils from China form a third lineage of later humans alongside Neanderthals and Homo sapiens,” Stringer explained.
Other finds include a fossilized skull from Dalí’s Chinese province believed to be 200,000 years old and found in 1978 and a jaw found in Tibet dating back 160,000 years.
Stringer explained that his Chinese colleagues had decided on the name Homo longi, which he called a “big name,” but said he would have been equally happy to refer to the species as Homo Daliensis, which previously s ‘used for the Dali skull.
More than 100,000 years ago, several human species coexisted in Eurasia and Africa, including ours, the Neanderthals, and the Denisovans, a newly discovered sister species of Neanderthals. “Dragon man” could now be added to this list.
An alternative explanation is that Homo longi and Denisovans are in fact the same. Fossils attributed so far to Denisovans include teeth and bones, but not a complete skull, so scientists are unsure of how they were.
But Neanderthals and Denisovans were genetically closer to each other than sapiens, while the new study suggests that homo longi went more anatomically to us than Neanderthals.
Therefore, persistent uncertainty may require future genetic sequencing to help clarify.