Is the “Dragon Man” cranium really from a brand new hominin species?

Two early-human skulls against a black background.

Enlarge / The Harbin cranium (left) and the Dali cranium (proper). (credit score: Ni et al. 2021)

The reported discovery of a brand new hominin species from China created loads of buzz final week. Its discoverers—paleoanthropologists Xijun Ni, Qiang Ji, Chris Stringer, and their colleagues—say {that a} cranium found close to Harbin, in northeast China, has a mix of options that is so completely different from Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens that it have to be a separate species. The researchers have named the discover Homo longi after the river the place the cranium was unearthed. Primarily based on statistical comparisons of the cranium’s measurements with skulls from different hominins, Ni and colleagues say that Homo longi is a sister species to Neanderthals, Denisovans, and us.

However that is nonetheless very a lot open for debate amongst paleoanthropologists, and the talk raises questions on how (or whether or not) we should always draw traces between hominin species.

Meet the Harbin cranium

Primarily based on uranium-series courting, the Harbin cranium lay buried for at the very least 146,000 years, nevertheless it’s in remarkably fine condition. Fossil hominin skulls typically find yourself crushed or warped by the burden of the earth above them after many millennia within the floor, however the Harbin cranium is not distorted in any respect. It is also intact, although the one tooth nonetheless hooked up is a left molar. That is uncommon in itself, as a result of tooth often are the most typical hominin fossil finds.

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