Explained: Where does 'Dragon Man' fit in human evolution
The scientists have hailed the discovery of a new type of early humans, nicknamed the "dragon man". The researchers say that this lineage is the closest to modern humans and could replace the Neandarthals. Experts like Prof Chris Stringer from London's Natural History Museum said it is one of the most important yet discovered.
The skull was unearthed in China in 2018 and dates back to 1,40,000 years. It was discovered in the Harbin region of China in 1930s but came to the attention of the scientists recently.
The findings have been published in the journal 'The Innovation'.
The scientists have also discovered bones belonging to early humans in Israel. The fossils were found during excavations in the quarry of a cement plant near the central city of Ramla. The scientists have named the new species "Nesher Ramla Homo type".
The experts say these discoveries are important and can shed new light on human evolution.
How many species of humans are there?
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the United States has given a list of 21 known species of humans. The museum says that the names are accepted by most scientists.
The oldest among these species is Sahelanthropus tchadensis, which according to the museum, existed about 7-6 million years ago somewhere around present day Chad in Africa. They walked upright, had small canine teeth and a spinal cord opening underneath the skull - some of the key characteristics listed on its website.
The others in the list are orrorin tugenensis, ardipithecus kadabba, ardipithecus ramidus, australopithecus anamensis and homo sapiens etc.
Where does the new "Dragon Man" species fit in?
Researchers have found evidence that several human species coexisted across Eurasia and Africa more than 100,000 years ago. These included Neanderthals and Denisovans, a recently discovered sister species to Neanderthals. "Dragon man" might now be added to that list.
The perfectly preserved skull found in China belonged to a large-brained male in his 50s with deep set eyes and thick brow ridges, said the scientists. Though his face was wide, it had flat, low cheekbones that made him resemble modern people more closely than other extinct members of the human family tree, they added.
The researchers in the UK have said that due to these distinct features, the skull found in China should be declared part of a new species under the genus Homo.
What else do we know about the "Dragon Man"?
Ji Qiang, a professor at Hebei GEO University, told reporters that the "Dragon Man" probably lived in a forested floodplain environment as part of a small community.
He also said that the community was well adapted for harsh environments and would have been able to disperse throughout Asia.
This new discovery is considered significant because it can provide critical evidence for studying the diversification of the Homo genus and the origin of Homo sapiens, according to The Innovation journal where the study has been published.