Massive ‘dragon man’ skull found in Chinese well reveals possible new hominid family tree branch more closely related to modern humans than Neanderthals

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The Dragon Man skull is huge, with a brain size around the same as the average for humans. Credit: Kai Geng
The Dragon Man skull is huge, with a brain size around the same as the average for humans. Credit: Kai Geng

The discovery of a huge fossilized skull that was wrapped up and hidden in a Chinese well nearly 90 years ago has forced scientists to rewrite the story of human evolution.

Analysis of the remains has revealed a new branch of the human family tree that points to a previously unknown sister group more closely related to modern humans than the Neanderthals.

The extraordinary fossil has been named a new human species, Homo longi or “Dragon man”, by Chinese researchers, although other experts are more cautious about the designation.

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To work out where the Harbin individual fitted into human history, the scientists fed measurements from the fossil and 95 other skulls into software that compiled the most likely family tree. To their surprise, the Harbin skull and a handful of others from China formed a new branch closer to modern humans than Neanderthals.

The Chinese researchers believe the Harbin skull is distinct enough to make it a new species, but [researcher Chris] Stringer is not convinced… “I prefer to call it Homo daliensis, but it’s not a big deal,” he said. “The important thing is the third lineage of later humans that are separate from Neanderthals and separate from Homo sapiens.” 

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