Chinese paleontologists present “Dragon Man” as a new species and “our closest relative”

Chinese paleontologists consider that this new Homo, of which we only know one skull, “represents a new human species”

Found in 1933 in the Chinese city of Harbis, the skull came into the hands of Chinese paleontologist Qianj Li in 2017

Bermúdez de Castro: “The problem with this skull is that it has no context, I don’t think this species is going to be accepted at the moment”

They assure that “It may be our closest relative.” We know about his skull – the video that accompanies this article – and nothing else. But that skull, say the scientists who have studied it, “Represents a new human species”, which they have called Homo longi or “Dragon Man”.

This perfectly preserved human fossil can be seen in the Geosciences Museum of GEO University of Hebei, China, to which the paleontologist belongs Qiang Ji, which has just published its findings in The Innovation magazine.

Li and his team maintain that this skull it might even be more closely related to us than Neanderthals. “The Neanderthal is believed to belong to an extinct lineage that is the closest relative of our species. However, our discovery suggests that the newly identified lineage, which includes Homo longi, would be the real brother of Homo sapiens. “

A somewhat risky claim for paleontologists like José María Bermúdez de Castro, co-director of Atapuerca and research professor at the CSIC. “The problem with this skull is that it has no context, and any discovery has to have a context so that it can be valued ”, he warns. “I don’t think this species is going to be accepted at the moment.”

The Hidden History of the “Harbin Skull”

Whether or not it is accepted as a new species, the truth is that it has characteristics that will not go unnoticed. Its about largest of Homo skulls known so far. It could contain a brain of comparable size to that of humans modern, though it had larger, almost square eye sockets, thick eyebrows, a wide mouth, and oversized teeth.

“While displaying typical archaic human characteristics, the Harbin skull exhibits a combination of primitive and derived characters that is distinguished from all other species of Homo “says Ji, referring to the Harbin skull because it was discovered in the Chinese city of Harbin in 1933. Although it was not until 2017 that it came into the hands of Qiang Ji.

What happened thereafter was closely followed by Bermúdez de Castro, who in 2018 traveled to China precisely to meet Ji. The Spanish paleontologist tells in his blog “The incredible story of the Harbin skull”, which was found in 1933 by a farmer in Hebei province and hidden in a well shortly after, where it remained hidden for years. When he died, the farmer revealed the hiding place to his grandson. He found the skull and sent it to the investigator in 2017.

The problem with this beautiful story is, as Bermúdez de Castro explains, that there is no context. The Harbin skull appears alone, with nothing to relate it to or a site to locate it. “When you find something like that, you usually find animal fossils next to it, for example, things that tell you about the time, the climate … and you can do dating. It’s like murder, everything around it gives you a lot of information. In this case there was not ”.

Homo longi and homo sapiens, did they meet in Asia?

The paleontologist explains that what scientists have done, then, is “explore around to see if there was any site from which it could come. Y They have managed to give you a chronology, but is it correct? It leaves the question open because it explains that there have been other similar cases, of skulls that appeared isolated and dated, “until one day they took a sample of the skull itself and it turned out that it had nothing to do with it.”

Ji and his team they dated the fossil at about 146,000 years, placing it in the Middle Pleistocene. And they hypothesize that Homo longi and Homo sapiens could have been found during this time. “What they will have to do is get proteins, and take DNA, and see what group it looks like. And they have not done that at the moment, ”warns Bermúdez de Castro.

Researchers believe the skull came from a male individual, in his 50s, who lived in a wooded setting and in a small community. “Like Homo sapiens, they hunted mammals and birds, gathered fruits and vegetables, and perhaps even fished“explains Xijun Ni, another of the study’s authors, a professor of primatology and paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hebei GEO University. They believe they were strong, large and robust, adapted to living in harsh environments, and that this species may have spread throughout Asia.

“We see multiple evolutionary lineages of Homo species and populations coexisting in Asia, Africa, and Europe during that time. So, If Homo sapiens had arrived in East Asia so early, it might have had the opportunity to interact with Homo longi, and since we don’t know when the Harbin group disappeared, there could have been later encounters as well, “says Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London and another of the study’s authors.

Part of “emerging humanity”

Chinese researchers say the finding of the Harbin’s skull has the potential to rewrite human evolution. They suggest that their potential interactions with Homo sapiens may have shaped our history. “The Harbin skull provides more evidence for us to understand the diversity of Homo and the evolutionary relationships between the various species,” they say.

“I think it’s okay to try to do things, but I I am convinced that this, for now, is going to be a “we’ll see …”. I don’t think the scientific community is going to accept this kind of moment. I think it is not far from us, nor from the Neanderthals, but if there is no context, we cannot know more ”, insists Bermúdez de Castro.

The paleontologist considers that probably the Harbin skull belongs to that “emerging humanity” of which he speaks in his recent book and which includes the most modern fossils: Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo sapiens. The last three branches of the genus Homo, which once shared space and some genes, and of which only we survive.

“The only species that has remained of this emerging humanity is us, who are very close to the Neanderthals. To these researchers, their analyzes tell them that the skull looks like all of these species. But it is not known how close more is to one than another, because if there is no context it is impossible to know ”. Bermúdez de Castro trusts, however, “that it will be known more and better in the future, but much more study still needs to be done. Hopefully, in a few years, this skull can be placed in the phylogeny “, concludes.

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