Ancient Human Relative Discovered in Northern China
by Felix Berkelman, age 15
The recent discovery of the skull of an unknown human relative in northeastern China is creating a stir in the scientific community.
The skull was originally found in 1933 by a bridge construction worker in Harben, China during the Japanese occupation of the city. To keep the Japanese from finding it, the worker hid it in an abandoned well, where it remained for decades until it was retrieved by his grandson in 2018, shortly before his grandfather’s death. However, it was only recently that this important discovery became widely known. The skull is thought to be around 146,000 years old and is in exceptionally good condition.
The unusual features of the skull have left scientists debating over what species it belongs to. It is considerably larger than other humanoid skulls, suggesting that its owner was bigger and taller than the average human. It has wide nostrils for breathing in the cold and a thick brow ridge, features associated with Neanderthals. However, it also has more human-like facial features, such as a gentle curve in the brow and a rounder head shape.
Many scientists think it is a new species, including the team that acquired it from the worker’s family. They have even given it a name; “Homo longi”, named after the area where it was found. This hypothetical species is thought to be a separate branch of hominids that died out when the ice age ended. It is believed that they would have been closer to humans than any other known relative, possibly even as intelligent as the humans who lived during that time period.
Another theory is that the skull belongs to an elusive group of hominids known as the Denisovans. Little is known about this species, as the only evidence for them is patterns in human DNA, and a few toe, tooth, and jaw samples. This evidence is so slim that many still debate their existence at all. From what little information is known, it has been determined that the Denisovans were close relatives of the Neanderthal. They lived in Siberia and other parts of Asia. The lack of skeletal artifacts from the Denisovans makes it nearly impossible to match them with the newfound skull. Currently the only grounds for the theory that it belongs to this species are its location and differences from both human and Neanderthal skulls.
Regardless of whether the skull is a Denisovan or its own species, the general consensus is that it is most likely a separate group from humans and Neanderthals. This discovery is very significant in the ongoing search for knowledge of human origins. Anthropologists hope that this and future discoveries will shed more light on the human family tree.
[Sources: CBS News; Wisconsin State Journal; BBC News]