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June 26, 2021

A team of international researchers studying an ancient skull determined it belongs to a newly discovered species that's more closely related to modern humans than Neanderthals, but others in the scientific community say the skull might belong to a mysterious, but already known ancestor.


The researchers' study, published in the journal Innovation, said the skull came from a previously undiscovered human species that lived in northern China.

Researchers have named the species Homo longi, which informally translates to "dragon man."

The skull is the largest Homo skull ever found, and the researchers say it belonged to a male in his 50s who lived in northern China between 146,000 and 296,000 years ago.

Some independent researchers are skeptical of the find, claiming the skull might actually belong to a species called the Denisovans, which is a known human ancestor whose face has never been seen before.

The skull shows a face that would have been much larger than a modern human's, with thick brow ridges and deeply set eyes, but shows a brain that would have been about the same size.

The skull was reportedly found by a farmer in the northern Chinese city of Harbin during the early 1930s, while he worked on a labor crew that was building a bridge. In 1933, the farmer hid the ancient skull inside a well, intending to keep it hidden from Japanese forces that occupied the city during World War II—fearing soldiers might loot it as a war treasure. The skull would remain inside the well for the better part of a century, before the farmer reportedly told his grandchildren about the skull while on his deathbed in 2018. The skull was then located and given to a Beijing-area university. 

If the skull does belong to a new species, it's largely unclear what their lives looked like. It's also unclear how much they might contribute to the lineage of modern humans.

“The DNA evidence suggests that if a hominin sees another hominin they’re happy to interbreed, even if their brow ridge is a little bigger or their skull is a little higher,” said Dr. Karen Baab, a Midwestern University anthropologist not associated with the research, in The Wall Street Journal.


Research in the past few years has definitively linked Neanderthals with modern humans, with most findings showing Neanderthals make up about 2% of the DNA of Europeans and Asians—though some suggest the amount might be much higher. The DNA of Denisovans has also been found in small amounts in modern populations, particularly among Asians

Source: Forbes
Image Source: Getty Images