A large skull discovered in China may be from a surprise, very close kin of modern humans, researchers have revealed.
The new species of ancient human, dubbed Homo longi or “Dragon Man,” could replace Neanderthals as the closest relative to modern man, or Homo sapiens, according to the scientists, who published their findings Friday in the journal The Innovation.
The nearly perfectly preserved skull, believed to be more than 146,000 years old and known as the Harbin cranium, has features notably resembling those of Homo sapiens, according to one of the authors, Chris Stringer, who is a research leader at London’s Natural History Museum
“It has flat and low cheekbones … and the face looks reduced and tucked under the brain case,” he said in a statement.
The skull — about 9 inches long and more than 6 inches wide — is also large enough to hold a brain similar in size to that of modern humans. Researchers believe it belonged to a male about 50 years old.
“It’s widely believed that the Neanderthal belongs to an extinct lineage that is the closest relative of our own species,” said research author Xijun Ni, a professor of primatology and paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, NBC News reported.
“However, our discovery suggests that the new lineage we identified that includes Homo longi is the actual sister group of Homo sapiens,” he added.
The cranium is thought to have been discovered in 1933 when a bridge was built over the Songhua River in Harbin City, in China’s Heilongjiang province, but was only recently studied.
It was wrapped and hidden by one of the workers down an abandoned well for years. He told his grandchildren of its existence on his deathbed in 2018.
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