Meet the Dragon Man
This new subspecies of humans was discovered recently in China and suggests new developments to our understanding of humankind.
Recently, on the 25th of June 2021, a human skull was brought in to 70-year-old paleontologist Ji Qiang, who published three papers on the discovery. Apparently, the skull was found as early as 1933 by a construction worker in Harbin, a Japanese-occupied part of China at the time. The construction worker left the whereabouts of the skull known to his grandson, who then recently brought it to the paleontologist. Although there is some speculation about the skull’s discovery, its implications to our understanding of human evolution are evident.
As seen in Figure 1, the skull features large eyebrow bones and huge, almost squared eye sockets, in addition to a large nasal cavity. According to Ji Qiang’s findings, the skull is about 150,000 to 300,000 years old (later confirmed to be at least 146,000 years old by Uranium dating), and belonged to a 50-year-old man who lived in northeast China. More interestingly, analysis of the skull indicates that the Homo longi (the subspecies to which the man is estimated to pertain) species is the closest to ours, rather than Neandertals.
However, simply assigning a new species to a newly discovered fossil is certain to raise controversy. Some believe that the skull belongs to another subspecies -- the Denisovans -- whose fossil record is scarce. Other sources argue that the physical characteristics of this newly found fossil are largely present in other close species. Ji insists, nevertheless, that the Dragon Man should remain its own species until more studies are conducted, and more evidence is found. There is also reason to believe Ji’s conclusion because the new species seems to be geographically isolated from others.
But how does this suggest anything for our understanding of prehistoric humans? Upon observation, in addition to all the features described previously, the skull also contained a space big enough for a brain similar in size to Homo sapiens’. This suggests common ancestry, which was in fact proved to be true through further statistical comparisons between other fossils from the common time period (referred to as the Middle Pleistocene). The supposed Homo longi shares a common ancestor with us at about 949,000 years, whereas Neandertals have it at one million years, placing the Dragon Man genetically closer to us than our Neandertal cousins. However, there will still be attempts to extract DNA from the fossil for further comparison to the aforementioned Denisovans.
Discoveries like these only enforce the ever so monumental theory of evolution, and hopefully, with the passing of time, more feats such as this are made, contributing greatly to the understanding of the fascinating process of life!
Further reading on this topic:
Sixth Tone. “The Story Behind China's 'Dragon Man' Discovery.” Sixth Tone, 2 July 2021, www.sixthtone.com/news/1007882/the-story-behind-chinas-dragon-man-discovery.
Al Jazeera. “'Dragon Man' Skull Discovered in China Could Be New Human Species.” Science and Technology News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 26 June 2021, www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/26/dragon-man-new-human-species-is-our-closest-ancestor.
Ann GibbonsJun. 25, 2021, et al. “Stunning 'Dragon Man' Skull May Be an Elusive Denisovan-or a New Species of Human.” Science, 29 June 2021, www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/06/stunning-dragon-man-skull-may-be-elusive-denisovan-or-new-species-human.
Bower, Bruce. “'Dragon Man' Skull May Help Oust NEANDERTALS as Our Closest Ancient Relative.” Science News, 25 June 2021, www.sciencenews.org/article/dragon-man-skull-homo-longi-human-evolution-neandertals.