A group of scientists and Chinese researchers recently announced a discovery of a new cranium belonging to a species of ancient humans. This cranium came from an approximately 50-year-old male individual who lived in the Middle Pleistocene age, around 146 000 years ago. This new species is the closest relative to Homo Sapiens. The new species is named Homo Longi, or "Dragon Man". The term "long" means dragon in Chinese, and this represents the Dragon River (Heilong Jiang) in Northeastern China, where a Chinese labourer first found the skull in 1933.
During the 1930s, the Japanese had occupied Northeast China. The Harbin cranium was reportedly
discovered in 1933 when a construction worker helped build a bridge (Dongjiang Bridge) over the Songhua River in Harbin City in Northeastern China. Instead of giving it to the Japanese authorities, he decided to hide it in a well and did not mention it to anyone. Before he passed away in 2018, the worker told his family about the skull and retrieved it. The family gave the skull to the Geoscience Museum at Hebei Geo University in China. As the worker preserved it well, the scientists were able to analyze it. From Hebei GEO University, Professor Qiang Ji says it is one of the complete early human skull fossils ever found.
A group of scientists conducted a few geochemical analyses to date the cranium fossil. The X-ray Fluorescence(XRF) element distribution patterns, rare earth elements (REE) patterns and Strontium isotopic composition show that the fossil is similar to those fossils found near Harbin and those of the Middle Pleistocene period, which is about 130,000 years ago. Research has shown that the skull has a mixture of primitive and modern human features. The Homo Longi appears to have flat cheeks and a broad mouth. Researchers deduced from the upper jaw structure and analysis of other human skulls that this species does not have a chin. Additionally, its brain is roughly 7 per cent larger than an average Homo Sapien brain. The "Dragon Man" had large, square-shaped eye sockets, thick eyebrow ridges, a wide mouth and oversized teeth.
However, not all scientists and researchers agree on the species of Homo Longi and their position on the hominin family tree. There is another fossil called the Dali cranium, and similar to the Homo Longi, it also has a combination of modern and primitive features. Scientists discovered this fossil in the Shanxi Province of China, and it belongs to the Homo daliensis species. Scientists also found a Denisovan jaw on the Tibetan Plateau called the Xiahe Mandible, and a new phylogenetic tree proposes the Homo Longi is closely related to this jaw. However, Ni, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is doubtful that the Dragon Man is a Denisovan, as there is uncertainty because the skull is incomplete as it lacks a jaw. Furthermore, the Denisovan skull was identified through DNA extracted from the sediment and not directly from the mandible's DNA.
The discovery of the Homo Longi skull reflects that the human family tree is very complicated, and studying our ancestors could help us explain our origins.
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