A massive fossilised skull discovered in China has challenged what scientists previously understood about human evolution, in what has been described as ‘one of the most important finds of the past 50 years.’
Analysis of the skull has revealed a new human sister species more closely related to modern Homo sapiens than the Neanderthals, who until now were understood to be our closest relative species.
Chinese researchers studying the fossilised skull have named the species Homo longi, or ‘Dragon man,’ though other anthropologists have warned that it is too soon to give this new branch of human ancestors an official designation.
Incredibly, the skull was actually first discovered all the way back in 1933 by a group of Chinese labourers in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, in what was then Japanese-occupied territory. The Guardian reports that in order to keep the skull out of Japanese hands, the labourers wrapped the skull and hid it in a well, where it remained for almost 90 years until one of the labourers passed the secret on to his grandson shortly before he died in 2018.
Using geochemical dating techniques, a team working out of Hebei Geo University have identified the skull as being at least 146,000 years old. The ‘Dragon man’ has unique features, but is said to more closely resemble Homo sapiens than our better-known ancestors, the Neanderthals.
While the team of Chinese scientists say they have discovered an entirely new species, others believe the skull may be similar to another fossil, known as Dali man, discovered in China back in 1978.
‘I prefer to call it Homo daliensis, but it’s not a big deal,’ Professor Chris Stringer, research leader at the Natural History Museum in London, told The Guardian. ‘The important thing is the third lineage of later humans that are separate from Neanderthals and separate from Homo sapiens.
‘I think this is one of the most important finds of the past 50 years, It’s a wonderfully preserved fossil,’ he added.