The skull was discovered in 1933 by Chinese workers building a bridge in Harbin, a city in northern China, during the Japanese occupation, researchers said. To prevent the skull from falling into the hands of the Japanese, it was wrapped and hidden in an abandoned well. It was not rediscovered until 2018 when the old man who initially hid it told his grandson, shortly before his death.
The remarkably well-preserved fossil has been called a new human species, Le long de, by Chinese researchers. The species has been nicknamed “Dragon man”, for the province of northern China where the skull was found, Heilongjiang – or in English, the region of “Black Dragon River”.
In a series of three articles published Friday in the research journal Innovation, scientists argued that the skull belonged to a man around 50 years old. It would have had a wide nose to allow it to breathe unhindered during strenuous activity and would likely have been solidly built to withstand freezing regional winters, the researchers wrote.
One of the most notable aspects of Harbin’s skull is its massive size, which, at 9 inches long and over 6 inches wide, is significantly larger than the modern human skull.
The skull also has a cranial capacity of approximately 1,420 milliliters or 48 fluid ounces. This falls within the range of cranial capabilities of modern humans, but the skull also has many primitive characteristics that make it a unique link between modern humans and Neanderthals.
Below the thick brow bone, the face has large square eye sockets, but it is delicate despite its size.
“It differs from all the others named Homo species, ”the researchers wrote, noting that it exhibits a mix of ancient and modern features like a“ slightly curved ”but“ massively developed ”brow bone and low, flat cheekbones with“ shallow ”depressions below. And compared to today’s more modern, round skull, the researchers said the Harbin skull was long and low.
The international research team, led by Professor Qiang Ji of Hebei Geo University in China, used geochemical techniques to date the skull to at least 146,000 years old.
When scientists compared the fossil to 95 other skulls using software, they found that the Harbin skull and a few other Chinese skulls appeared to form a new branch closer to modern humans than to Neanderthals.
The Chinese team said they believe Harbin’s skull is unique enough to be considered a new species. However, others are not convinced. Professor Chris Stringer, research director at the Natural History Museum in London who also worked on the project, told the Guardian that the skull may be similar to another skull found in China in 1978.
He said: “The important thing is the third line of later humans who are separated from Neanderthals and separated from Homo sapiens.