Scientists have discovered a huge fossilised skull that was wrapped and kept hidden in a Chinese well, nearly 90 years ago, and this discovery makes them question the trajectory of humans in their evolution, according to a report by the Guardian.
The analysis of the skull sheds light on a new branch of the human family tree that shows links with a previously unknown sister group which could have been more closely related to modern humans than the Neanderthals.
Chinese researchers have named this unique human species Homo Longi or ‘Dragon man’. And this skull, apart from its unique appearance also has an equally intriguing back story.
The skull was actually first discovered in 1933 by Chinese labourers who at the time were building a bridge over the Songhua River in Harbin, Heilongjiang province in China. This was during the period of Japanese occupation.
The discoverer of the skull, to prevent it from getting in the hands of the Japanese, hid it in an abandoned well. However, it again resurfaced in 2018, when the man who hid it, told his grandson about it before passing away.
An international team of researchers, led by Professor Qiang Ji at China’s Hebei Geo University used geochemical techniques to narrow down the age of the skull. Dating showed the bones were 146,000 years old. Moreover, the skull showed unique elements of both modern and primitive facial features, very similar to Homo sapiens.
The skull is 23 centimetres long and over 15 centimetres wide — considerably larger than a regular human skull, with 1,420 millimetres of space for the brain. Just below the thick eye-brow ridge, the face has square-shaped eye-sockets.
Researchers are of the belief that the skull belonged to a male who would have been around 50 years of age at the time of his demise. He also possessed a wider nose than others, allowing the individual to breathe larger volumes of air and indicating an extremely active lifestyle.
One Professor, Xijun Ni, a paleoanthropologist at Hebei says that Homo longi was a heavy individual, “Homo longi is heavily built, very robust. It is hard to estimate the height, but the massive head should match a height higher than the average of modern humans.”
To better understand the history of the Dragon Man, they entered the measurements from the fossil and 95 other skulls into a software that compiled a family tree of sorts. This revealed that this skull and a bunch of others from China actually have formed a new branch closer to modern humans than the Neanderthals.
However, not all researchers around the world feel the same. Professor John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that the idea of a new lineage of humans was not accurate as skulls can look similar even among distant relatives of individuals.
He explained, “I think it’s a bad moment in science to be naming new species among these large-brained humans that all interbred with each other. What we are repeatedly finding is that the differences in looks didn’t mean much to these ancient people when it comes to breeding.”