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A specimen that adds new layer to human evolution

Filed on June 27, 2021
AFP

Chinese researchers unveiled a skull that is believed to belong to a new species of humans that might have lived nearly 146,000 years ago.


Our origins define who we are. Perhaps then it is only fair we remain curious about them. Scientific curiosities about the early man have led to various questions. How did a small population sustain itself? Did the early man actually have a more direct interaction with the environment? What tools did the hunters and gatherers use to sustain themselves pre-Stone Age? An extensive research has thrown light on these aspects of our early existence, but every now and then, a new discovery sheds new light on our past. This week, Chinese researchers unveiled a skull that is believed to belong to a new species of humans that might have lived in East Asia nearly 146,000 years ago. The specimen, named Dragon Man, has a huge skull, square-shaped eyes, thick brow ridges and oversized teeth. Could it be a Homo Sapien, after all? Scientists certainly believe its features align with the species, though they maintain its distinctiveness lends itself to be declared a new species under the broader genus of Homo.

Interestingly, the specimen was first discovered in 1933 by a construction worker who was working on a site to build a bridge on the Songua River running through Harbin. But owing to the Japanese influence on the city, the skull was reportedly smuggled by the Chinese worker in order to keep it protected from the Japanese dispensation. He hid it at a family well, where it has now stayed for more than 80 years. Before he passed away, the Chinese worker informed his family, who, in turn, apprised the authorities of the same.

This is not the first time a discovery has raised questions on whether there could have been another stage of evolution that has remained undocumented. According to Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, there are 21 species of humans. And yet discoveries in certain other parts of China point to the larger problem of bracketing the remains under one of these 21 species. Some scientists even contend that some of these species may have co-existed more than 100,000 years ago. Under these circumstances, what makes discovery of Dragon Man, categorised as Homo Longi (the Chinese word means dragon), important is that it provides most vital insights on the evolution of Homo Sapiens. From the specimen, it is evident that the species was accustomed to living in harsh environments and was at a middle stage of evolution — with a combination of both primitive and modern features. Given that it is one of the most complete form of specimen to be found, it is likely to provide the much-needed insights that can help scientists arrive at a definitive conclusion.





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