TechNewly discovered skulls in China could bridge the gap in human evolution

Newly discovered skulls in China could bridge the gap in human evolution

Yunxian Man's skull
Yunxian Man's skull
Images source: © Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, Yunxian Man Cranium II | Gary Lee Todd

5:56 PM EDT, May 21, 2024

In 1989 and 1990, two million-year-old skulls were discovered in the Yunyang district of Hubei province in central China. These skulls belonged to unidentified human ancestors. A third similar skull was found nearby in 2022, adding to the mystery about their origins. Questions arose about whether the skulls belonged to Homo erectus, early Homo sapiens, or were linked to the enigmatic Asian "Dragon Man," challenging scientists to find answers. However, new research offers some clarity on these discoveries.

A research team presented a thesis in a new, yet-to-be-reviewed paper, suggesting that one of the discovered skulls, which they managed to reconstruct, might be close to the last common ancestor of Homo sapiens and the Dragon Man lineage, as reported by IFLScience. The site also reminds us that Dragon Man, also known as Homo longi, is an extinct species of archaic human whose well-preserved skull, dating back 146,000 years, was discovered in Heilongjiang province, China in 1933.

Is the yunxian man a missing link?

Scientists believe that Dragon Man is more closely related to Homo sapiens than to Neanderthals. They hypothesize that he could have been one of the Denisovans—the mysterious, extinct "brothers" of Homo sapiens who once inhabited Eurasia. Despite the uncertainty about his exact place in the Homo family tree, researchers in the new study suggest an intriguing link between Dragon Man and the three skulls found in Yunyang, named "Yunxian Man."

According to IFLScience, researchers reconstructed the Yunxian Man's skull, primarily based on the better-preserved specimen (Yunxian 2), and compared the shape of the reconstructed skull with other members of the Homo family. They noted that the Yunxian skull possessed a mosaic of features, many indicating that it might have belonged to an early representative of the Dragon Man lineage. The findings suggest that Yunxian Man, dated 940,000 to 1.1 million years ago, may be the last common ancestor of modern humans and the mysterious Dragon Man from East Asia.

Researchers believe that, both morphologically and chronologically, Yunxian Man is close to the last common ancestor of the Homo sapiens and Dragon Man lineages. This discovery, published on the bioRxiv preprint server, provides new perspectives on understanding the process of human evolution, shedding light on its complex history. Undoubtedly, future studies will establish a more precise place for Yunxian Man in the human family tree, offering more insights into our ancestors and their evolutionary paths.

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