Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Skull found in China represents a new human species


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Stone age man and his evolution

Mains level: Not Much

Scientists have announced that a skull discovered in northeast China represents a newly discovered human species they have named Homo longi, or “Dragon Man”.

Answer this PYQ in the comment box:

Q.The word ‘Denisovan’ is sometimes mentioned in media in reference to (CSP 2019):

(a) fossils of a kind of dinosaurs

(b) an early human species

(c) a cave system found in North-East India.

(d) a geological period in the history of Indian subcontinent

Who is the “Dragon Man”, the latest Chinese discovery?

  • The cranium found in China has been dubbed the “Dragaon Man” or Homo longi, a name that has been derived from the Long Jiang or Dragon River in the Heilongjiang province of China where the city of Harbin is located.
  • The skull was reportedly discovered back in 1933, when a bridge was built over the Songhua River.
  • For thousands of years, the skull remained buried in sediments.
  • Because of the distinctive shape of the skull, which was found almost complete, some members of the team have suggested that it be declared a part of a new species of the genus Homo.
  • Significantly, the size of the skull, which has a considerable brain capacity, is comparable to that of modern humans and Neanderthals.

Why is this discovery being considered significant?

  • For one, it brings new knowledge about the evolution of Homo sapiens.
  • It might help to bridge the gaps between our ancient ancestors called Homo erectus and us.
  • This knowledge is important because there is very little consensus in the scientific community about how different human species are related, and which species are our immediate ancestors.
  • Smithsonian for instance notes that some palaeontologists believe Homo heidelbergensis to be our immediate ancestors.
  • This species was discovered in 1908, and lived about 700,000 to 200,000 years ago in Europe and possibly China and some parts of Africa.

Back2Basics: Species of Humans

  • Modern humans are the only human species that exist in the world today.
  • While the exact number of human species is a matter of debate, most scientists believe that there are at least 21 of them.

As per the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, there are over 21 human species.  Major among these are:

(1) Sahelanthropus tchadensis

  • Sahelanthropus tchadensis is believed to be the oldest member of the human family tree.
  • It lived about 7-6 million years ago somewhere around present-day Chad in Africa.
  • It had both ape-like and human-like features and was bipedalled, an ability that may have increased its chances of survival.

(2) Homo erectus

  • Homo erectus lived about 1.89 million-110,000 years ago, in Northern, Eastern, and Southern Africa and Western and East Asia.
  • ‘Turkana Boy’ is the most complete fossil belonging to this species and is dated to be around 1.6 million years old.

(3) Modern man

  • Homo neanderthalensis lived about 400,000-40,000 years ago and co-existed with Homo sapiens for a few thousand years.
  • They lived in Europe and in southwestern and central Asia.
  • Homo sapiens evolved about 300,000 years ago, and are found worldwide.

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