E.Scientists believe that the skull found in northeastern China may belong to a prehistoric species more closely related to modern humans than the Neanderthals. As the researchers write in the specialist magazine “The Innovation”, the brain of Homo longi or “dragon man” – named after the region of the find – could have been about as big as that of modern humans. The large eye sockets, the thick eyebrow ridges, the wide mouth and the large teeth, on the other hand, are more reminiscent of the Neanderthals.
The skull is said to be at least 146,000 years old, but not older than 309,000 years. So it comes from the Middle Pleistocene. It was found in Harbin in northeast China in the 1930s, but apparently lay in hiding in a well for 85 years and was only handed over to Professor Ji Qiang from Shijiazhuang in the Chinese province of Hebei in 2018. A Chinese worker found it and hid it from the Japanese who were occupying China at the time. Only shortly before his death did he inform his relatives about the find.
“According to our research, the Harbin man is more closely connected to Homo sapiens than the Neanderthals,” said Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, who is one of the study’s co-authors, told AFP. The researchers first examined the external morphology of the skull using more than 600 features and then looked for related fossils using computer simulation.
The findings suggest that the Harbin people and some other fossils from China “form a third line of voting alongside the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens,” explains Stringer.
Hunters and collectors
The researchers also suspect that the skull came from a man around 50 years old who lived in a wooded floodplain. “They were probably hunters and gatherers who nourished themselves from nature,” said Stringer. In winter, the homo longi in Harbin had to cope with “even rougher cold” than the Neanderthals.
“When I first saw the picture of the fossil, I thought, now we finally know what Denisovans looked like,” Philipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, told the New York Times. The Denisovans are a lineage of contemporary humans, homo sapiens. In addition to the Neanderthals, they are our closest extinct relatives, they even crossed with humans and today we carry parts of their DNA.
Just four years earlier, researchers had found another human-like skull near Beijing, nicknamed the Peking Man. He seemed to connect the people of Asia with their evolutionary predecessors.