'Dragon man' fossil may replace Neanderthals as our closest relative

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A near-perfectly preserved past quality fossil known arsenic the Harbin cranium sits successful the Geoscience Museum successful Hebei GEO University. The largest of known Homo skulls, scientists present accidental this skull represents a recently discovered quality taxon named Homo longi oregon "Dragon Man." Their findings, appearing successful 3 papers publishing June 25 successful the diary The Innovation, suggest that the Homo longi lineage whitethorn beryllium our closest relatives -- and has the imaginable to reshape our knowing of quality evolution.

"The Harbin fossil is 1 of the astir implicit quality cranial fossils successful the world," says writer Qiang Ji, a prof of paleontology of Hebei GEO University. "This fossil preserved galore morphological details that are captious for knowing the improvement of the Homo genus and the root of Homo sapiens."

The cranium was reportedly discovered successful the 1930s successful Harbin City of the Heilongjiang state of China. The monolithic skull could clasp a encephalon comparable successful size to modern humans' but had larger, astir quadrate oculus sockets, heavy brow ridges, a wide mouth, and oversized teeth. "While it shows emblematic archaic quality features, the Harbin cranium presents a mosaic operation of primitive and derived characters mounting itself isolated from each the different previously-named Homo species," says Ji, starring to its caller taxon designation of Homo longi.

Scientists judge the cranium came from a antheral individual, astir 50 years old, surviving successful a forested, floodplain situation arsenic portion of a tiny community. "Like Homo sapiens, they hunted mammals and birds, and gathered fruits and vegetables, and possibly adjacent caught fish," remarks writer Xijun Ni, a prof of primatology and paleoanthropology astatine the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hebei GEO University. Given that the Harbin idiosyncratic was apt precise ample successful size arsenic good arsenic the determination wherever the skull was found, researchers suggest H. longi whitethorn person been adapted for harsh environments, allowing them to disperse passim Asia.

Using a bid of geochemical analyses, Ji, Ni, and their squad dated the Harbin fossil to astatine slightest 146,000 years, placing it successful the Middle Pleistocene, a dynamic epoch of quality taxon migration. They hypothesize that H. longi and H. sapiens could person encountered each different during this era.

"We spot aggregate evolutionary lineages of Homo taxon and populations co-existing successful Asia, Africa, and Europe during that time. So, if Homo sapiens so got to East Asia that early, they could person a accidental to interact with H. longi, and since we don't cognize erstwhile the Harbin radical disappeared, determination could person been aboriginal encounters arsenic well," says writer Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist astatine the Nature History Museum successful London.

Looking farther backmost successful time, the researchers besides find that Homo longi is 1 of our closest hominin relatives, adjacent much intimately related to america than Neanderthals. "It is wide believed that the Neanderthal belongs to an extinct lineage that is the closest comparative of our ain species. However, our find suggests that the caller lineage we identified that includes Homo longi is the existent sister radical of H. sapiens," says Ni.

Their reconstruction of the quality histrion of beingness besides suggests that the communal ancestor we stock with Neanderthals existed adjacent further backmost successful time. "The divergence clip betwixt H. sapiens and the Neanderthals whitethorn beryllium adjacent deeper successful evolutionary past than mostly believed, implicit 1 cardinal years," says Ni. If true, we apt diverged from Neanderthals astir 400,000 years earlier than scientists had thought.

The researchers accidental that findings gathered from the Harbin cranium person the imaginable to rewrite large elements of quality evolution. Their investigation into the beingness past of Homo longi suggest they were strong, robust humans whose imaginable interactions with Homo sapiens whitethorn person shaped our past successful turn. "Altogether, the Harbin cranium provides much grounds for america to recognize Homo diverseness and evolutionary relationships among these divers Homo taxon and populations," says Ni. "We recovered our long-lost sister lineage."

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Materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Content whitethorn beryllium edited for benignant and length.

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