Story at a glance

  • Researchers claim their analysis shows the skull represents a species more closely related to Homo sapiens than Neanderthals or Denisovans, an early human that lived around the same period.
  • The skull was reportedly found nearly 90 years ago in northeastern China.
  • Other researchers are skeptical of the study’s findings, suspecting the fossil could be from a Denisovan, which are only known primarily from DNA, according to Science.

New research suggests that a large fossilized skull found in northeastern China could belong to a previously unknown species that may be modern humans’ closest relative. 

The skull was reportedly found nearly 90 years ago by a Chinese man who was forced to help build a bridge across the Songhua River in Harbin by Japanese soldiers occupying the region. 


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The man stashed the large skull in a well to prevent it from falling into the hands of his Japanese supervisors. 

Just before his death, the man revealed the secret of the skull to his grandchildren who retrieved the prehistoric fossil in 2018 and donated it to the Geoscience Museum at Hebei GEO University. 

Researchers from Hebei GEO University conducted analysis of the cranium they claim is a newly discovered human species dubbed Homo longi or “Dragon Man” published in three papers in the journal The Innovation. 

Scientists examined the anatomical features of the fossil and determined that Dragon Man lived in northern China at least 146,000 years ago. The skull is large enough to hold a brain comparable in size to modern humans, but had larger square-like eye sockets, thick brow ridges, a wide mouth and oversized teeth. 

The skull was likely that of a male in his 50s. 

Researchers claim their analysis shows the skull represents a species more closely related to Homo sapiens than Neanderthals or Denisovans, an early human that lived around the same period. 


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“This fossil preserved many morphological details that are critical for understanding the evolution of the Homo genus and the origin of Homo sapiens,” Qiang Ji, a professor of paleontology at Hebei GEO University and author of the study, said in a statement

“It is widely believed that the Neanderthal belongs to an extinct lineage that is the closest relative of our own species. However, our discovery suggests that the new lineage we identified that includes Homo longi is the actual sister group of H. sapiens,” Xijun Ni, professor of primatology and paleoanthropology and author of the research, said. 

Other researchers are skeptical of the study’s findings, suspecting the fossil could be from a Denisovan, which are only known primarily from DNA, according to Science


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Published on Jun 26, 2021