‘Homo longi’: Chinese scientists present the dragon man, the new human species “sister” of ‘Homo sapiens’ | Science

A team led by Chinese scientists says they have found the remains of a new human species that lived in Asia at least 146,000 years ago and that it would be the closest evolutionary relative of the Homo sapiens; our own species.

Researchers have dubbed it In a most, dragon man, referring to the name of the region of northeast China where the fossil skull was found. Analysis of this skull indicates that it was a man in his 50s, probably tall and strong. This human was some kind of frankenstein with primitive and modern features: a flattened head, thick arches over the eyebrows, a wide mouth and teeth much larger than those of any modern person. But it also had one of the largest skulls known to mankind, and it could house a brain the same size as ours.

“This fossil has key characteristics to understand the origin of the genus Homo and the appearance of our species,” explains Quiang Ji, a researcher at the GEO University of Hebei and co-author of the three studies that describe the new species and its dating, published in The Innovation.

Reconstruction of the appearance of the 'Homo longi', or dragon man.
Reconstruction of the appearance of the ‘Homo longi’, or dragon man.Chuang Zhao

The proposal of these scientists is a new nail in the coffin of that theory that he sees in the homo sapiens a unique and chosen species, as it indicates that about 200,000 years ago there were seven different human species on Earth that sometimes shared habitat and even had sex and children. “It would be the sapiens, Neanderthals, man daliensis, Standing man, the flower man, the one from Luzon and this new one ”, explains Chris Stringer, researcher at the Natural History Museum in London and co-author of two of the studies on the dragon man.

The skull passed from generation to generation until it reached the hands of a peasant, who decided to donate it to science

The history of this fossil is bizarre. In 2018, a peasant brought the skull to Ji. The fossil was found by a companion of his grandfather in 1933 while he was working on the construction of a bridge over the Songhua River in the city of Harbin, in northeast China. according China Daily, a newspaper of the Chinese Propaganda Ministry. The grandfather hid the skull in a well so that the Japanese would not take it away during the war that faced both countries. The skull passed from generation to generation until it reached the hands of that peasant, who decided to donate it to science.

The main problem with this story is that the environment in which the fossil was found is unknown. And so it is very difficult to date it. In studies published today, Chinese scientists have analyzed the chemical compounds in the sediment that the fossil still has stuck in the nasal cavity and have compared it with that of a column of earth extracted from the bank of the Songhua where the skull supposedly appeared almost years ago. a century. The ages coincide and give that antiquity of at least 146,000 years.

Human fossils found in China have long posed an unsolved puzzle. Hominid skulls and other bones have been found in this country that do not fit into any of the known species. On the one hand, they have features that bring them closer to Standing man, a tall, burly hominin that was the first member of our genus to leave Africa 1.9 million years ago and spread across Asia. On the other hand, they present characteristics similar to homo sapiens, which arrived in this area of ​​the planet about 50,000 years ago.

The scientists responsible for the study now say that all those fossils are from In a most. Their studies suggest that this would be the closest species to ours in evolution, more than the Neanderthals, since they propose that the separation of these and the sapiens occurred 400,000 years earlier than previously thought.

“The Harbin fossil and others from China belong to a third lineage of humans that coexisted with Neanderthals and sapiens,” Stringer says. “If we accept that Neanderthals are a different species, so is this,” he says. But the British paleontologist prefers to ascribe the new fossil to the man daliensis, one of those skulls halfway between erectus and sapiens.

Seven years ago, a group of Spanish scientists proposed the existence of a new species of humans in China. In that case they were based on the remains of a boy who lived about 60,000 years ago and who also had mixed features. One of the authors of the proposal was María Martinón-Torres, director of the National Museum of Research on Human Evolution, who is very skeptical about the new Chinese find. “It is a spectacular fossil, but to say that it is a new species goes too far, mainly because the context is not known. [el terreno] in which it was discovered ”, says the paleoanthropologist.

Among the fossils that Chinese scientists label as dragonman is Xiahe’s jaw, found in the middle of the Tibetan plateau. In 2019, a team managed to extract proteins from the bone and these showed that it was a Denisovan, the “sister” species of the Neanderthals that inhabited Asia. “You cannot be a brother to Neanderthals and Sapiens at the same time. The analysis they have made has inconsistencies and I think that the most logical thing is to relate this new species to Neanderthals ”, adds Martinón-Torres.

Antonio Rosas, an expert on Neanderthals at the CSIC believes that “it is a revolutionary job.” It refers above all to the morphological analysis of the skull and its comparison with the rest of known human fossils, a task that has an important computational component and that is therefore vulnerable, since everything depends on the previous programming that is entered, for example choosing which features are primitive and which are modern. “This approach is so powerful that it can rival palaeogenetics,” says Rosas, referring to the discipline that analyzes genes and proteins extracted from fossils and that has contributed most of the greatest discoveries in human evolution in recent years, says Rosas. . This could be the first known skull of a Denisovan, but analysis places it closer to Homo sapiens. It is a very complex conclusion that will still have to be discussed a lot. What is clear is that we are no longer facing a unidirectional paradigm in which human ancestors leave Africa to go to the rest of the planet, but that possibly there were return trips of human species from Asia to Africa ”, he highlights.

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