Peculiar parasitic fungi discovered growing out of the rectum of a 50 million-year-old fossilized ant

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'Dragon Man' Skull Discovery May Reveal a New Human Species

The Mary Sue 28 June, 2021 - 10:07am

An ancient skull, long hidden in the bottom of a well, could be the key to unlocking a whole new chapter of human evolution. Researchers believe they have discovered a new species, dubbed “Dragon Man”, based on a well preserved skull found in Harbin, China in 1933. The skull is believed to be a closer evolutionary relative to Homo sapiens than the Neanderthals, creating the new classification Homo longi, from the Chinese word “long”, meaning “dragon”.

🚨 Breaking news: A huge skull found in the Songhua River in China represents a new sister lineage for Homo sapiens. It dates to at least 146,000 years old and has been dubbed 'Dragon Man'.

This is a remarkable piece in the jigsaw of human evolution.

— Natural History Museum (@NHM_London) June 25, 2021

The skull was reportedly discovered in 1933 by a Chinese laborer during the construction of a bridge on the Songhua river that runs through the northern Chinese province of Heilongjiang, which translates to Black Dragon River region (hence the “dragon man” moniker). The city was under Japanese occupation at the time, so to keep the skull from falling into Japanese hands, the laborer smuggled the skull to his home, where he buried it at the bottom of his family’s well. The skull was hidden for 80 years until the man, on his deathbed, told his grandson about the fossil in 2018.

“Dragon Man” belongs to an ancient human group that lived in East Asia at least 146,000 years ago, and features a wide face, deep square eye sockets, a prominent brow, large teeth, and most importantly, a sizable cranium, which measures 9 inches long and more than 6 inches wide, much larger than a modern human skull. The skull features a cranial capacity of approximately 48 fluid ounces, which meets the cranial capacity range of modern Homo sapiens. That brain capacity, plus the primitive features, establishes a new sister species that may be the closest branch on our evolutionary tree.

Professor Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at The Natural History Museum in London, said “The Harbin skull is the most important fossil I’ve seen in 50 years. It shows how important East Asia and China is in telling the human story.” He continued, “What you have here is a separate branch of humanity that is not on its way to becoming Homo sapiens (our species), but represents a long-separate lineage which evolved in the region for several hundred thousand years and eventually went extinct.”

New ancient extinct human just dropped

— Michael Roston (@michaelroston) June 25, 2021

Researchers believe the skull belonged to a man in his 50s, with a wide bulbous nose that would allow him to breathe large volumes of air. Based on this, they believe the man led a highly active lifestyle, and likely had a well built, muscular physique that would help him survive the region’s harsh winters.

Mark Maslin, a professor of earth system science at UCL, said “The beautifully preserved Chinese Harbin archaic human skull adds even more evidence that human evolution was not a simple evolutionary tree but a dense intertwined bush. We now know that there were as many as 10 different species of hominins at the same time as our own species emerged.”

Prof Xijun Ni, a paleoanthropologist at Hebei Geo University in China, said “We found our long-lost sister lineage.” In an interview with the BBC he added, “I said ‘oh my gosh!’. I could not believe that it was so well preserved. You can see all the details. It is a really amazing find!”

Peoples keep tweetin' at me bout this Dragon Man discovery. This is all The Cheat and I got in response.

— Strong Bad (@StrongBadActual) June 25, 2021

(via The Guardian, image: screencap/The Telegraph)

Move Over, Neanderthals. This Could Actually Be Our Closest Human Relative

ScienceAlert 28 June, 2021 - 10:07am

The skull is much bigger than that of Homo sapiens and other human species – and its brain size is similar to that of our own species. Historical events left it without a secure place of origin or date, until today.

Now a team of Chinese, Australian and British researchers has finally solved the puzzle – the skull represents a previously unknown extinct human species. The research, published as three studies in the journal Innovation, suggests this is our closest relative in the human family tree.

Dubbed Homo longi, which can be translated as "dragon river", it is named after the province in which it was found. The identification of the skull, thought to have come from a 50-year-old male, was partly based on chemical analysis of sediments trapped inside it.

This confirmed it comes from the upper part of the Huangshan rock formation near Harbin City. The formation was reliably dated to the Middle Pleistocene – 125,000 to 800,000 years ago. Uranium series dating, which involves using the known rate of decay of radioactive uranium atoms in a sample to work out its age, showed that the fossil itself is at least 146,000 years old.

Homo longi can now takes its place among an ever increasing number of hominin species across Africa, Europe and Asia.

Determining the historical relationship between fossil species, however, remains one of the most difficult tasks in the study of human evolution.

In recent years, the analysis of ancient DNA has transformed our understanding of the relationship between early populations of modern humans. It has also highlighted how we are different - and similar – to our most immediate relatives, the Neanderthals.

Surviving DNA, however, is very rare for fossil hominins from the Middle Pleistocene, as it tends to degrade over time. Evolutionary relationships must therefore be determined using other evidence. This is usually data on the shape - morphology - of fossils, their age and geographical location.

The Harbin team generated a family tree ("phylogeny") of human lineages to work out how the species relates to modern humans. This tree is based on morphological data from 95 largely complete fossil specimens of different hominin species living during the Middle Pleistocene, including Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo heidelbergensis and Homo sapiens along with their known ages.

The tree also suggests that five previously unidentified fossils from northeastern China are from Homo longi.

It predicts that the common ancestor of Homo longi and Homo sapiens lived approximately 950,000 years ago. Furthermore, it suggests that both species shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals a bit more than 1 million years ago, meaning we may have split from Neanderthals 400,000 earlier than previously thought (we used to think it was 600,000 years ago).

Until now, the Neanderthals were considered our closest relative (according to the study, we split from Homo heidelbergensis some 1.3 million years ago). Debates about the evolution of modern humans and what it is that makes us "human" therefore relied heavily on comparisons to Neanderthals.

But the new discovery pushes Neanderthals one step further away from ourselves and makes simple comparisons between two species much less important to understanding what ultimately makes us who we are.

There are, however, still significant points of concern about the dating of this phylogenetic model, as recognized by the authors. The predicted dates for the common ancestors between human lineages do not match the dates of actual discovered fossils, or those predicted by the analysis of DNA.

For example, this study proposes that there was Homo sapiens in Eurasia at about 400,000 years ago. But the oldest fossil for this species known outside Africa is little more than half this age.

At the same time, the split between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals predicted here at more than 1 million years old does not match the prediction of nuclear DNA analysis, which suggests it happened much later. However, it can be backed up by doing DNA analysis with genetic material taken from the cell's engine, called the mitochondria.

The older estimates presented by this study may result from the use of new techniques, called Bayesian tip dating, which aren't normally used in evolutionary studies. These can take into account both morphological and molecular data and make predictions about the possible sequence and date of the divergence of species.

While the shape of the family tree presented here is likely to stand the test of time, it is still too early to accept these predicted divergence dates as definitive. That said, the research also sheds important light on how human species occurred and spread through the Middle Pleistocene – into all areas of our planet. Crucially, many of these species may have interbreed.

Europe was the origin point for Neanderthals. Meanwhile, the Asian human species Homo erectus was a critical evolutionary step, giving rise to all later hominin species. And now we know that Homo longi evolved in Asia too. It therefore looks like Africa was a destination as well as a point of origin for the spread of human species.

The Harbin cranium also tells another story about human evolution as a science and as an international discipline. Human evolution was originally a European area of interest, focused on evidence from sites in western and central Europe. The discovery of fossils in Africa added great time depth to the origins of the human lineage and led to a common story of the spread of new species out of Africa.

The Harbin cranium reminds us of the vast expanse of Asia, whose fossils and scientists are now coming to the fore. Further insights may come both from the discovery of new species and old figurative art.

China's 'Dragon Man' skull could change human evolution

Happy Mag 28 June, 2021 - 10:07am

Evolution has just gotten cooler.

The skull (which is believed to be 146,000 years old) had previously been discovered in the 1930s by a farmer who was working on constructing a bridge in the Japanese-occupied Heilongjiang province in China.

During construction, the farmer found the skull, wrapped it up and hid it down a well. Years passed and just before the farmer passed away, he told his grandson of his discovery.

Dubbed Homo longi or “Dragon Man” in reference to the skull’s geographical location (where the province is commonly referred to as “Long Jiang … [or] dragon river”), researchers believe that the skull contains enough evidence to prove that “Homo longi is the actual sister group of Homo sapiens”.

“We found our long-lost sister lineage,” says Xijun Ni, a paleoanthropologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Guangzhou) and Hebei GEO University (Shijiazhuang).

According to Professor Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum in London (who has studied the fossil), Dragon Man’s skull: “shows other features resembling our species … It has flat and low cheekbones with a shallow canine fossa, and the face looks reduced and tucked under the braincase.”

In addition to this, Dragon Man also: “had large, almost square eye sockets, thick brow ridges, a wide mouth, and oversized teeth” with a strong build.

Scientific recreation of the mysterious Dragon Man

— VincenzoPlays🇮🇹💗💜💙 (@VincenzoPlays) June 25, 2021

The skull is approximately 22cm in length and more than 15cm in width.

It’s widely believed amongst the research teams involved that the skull’s owner would have been: “a male about 50 years old.”

“In terms of fossils in the last million years, this is one of the most important yet discovered,” Stringer said when speaking to BBC News.

— Shamar English (@english_shamar) June 25, 2021

While researchers have been ecstatic with the recent development in our understanding of human evolution, it also has come with its complications.

Professor Qiang Ji from Hebei GEO University has previously explained that Dragon Man’s skull: “has a mosaic combination of primitive and more modern features, setting itself apart from all the other species of human.”

The different features, in addition to the skull’s location, has led many in the scientific community to debate whether it’s too early to legitimise Homo longi.

Some say that Dragon Man could have been another species known as a Denisovan, a relative of the Neanderthals who lived in Siberia “280,000 to 55,000 years ago”.

Spanish paleoanthropologist, María Martinón-Torres, had this to say regarding the find: “It’s premature to name a new species, especially a fossil with no context, with contradictions in the data set.”

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Scientists found a massive ‘dragon man’ head that may belong to a new species

BGR 28 June, 2021 - 10:07am

Separately, scientists from China have studied a massive human head fossil that they believe belongs to an entirely different species, currently named Homo longi or “Dragon man.” Other experts disagree with their Chinese fellows, and they say that it might be premature to designate a new humanoid species.

Found in Harbin, the skull above might also help rewrite human evolution because the Homo longi might have been a group more closely related to modern Homo sapiens than the Neanderthals.

The fossil was first discovered in 1933 by Chinese workers building a bridge over the Songhua River during the Japanese occupation. To prevent it from falling into the hands of their occupiers, the workers wrapped the skull and hid it in a well, The Guardian reports. It resurfaced only in 2018 when the man who hid the skull told his grandson about it on his death bed.

Researchers at the Hebei Geo University in China determined that the Harbin skull was at least 146,000 years old. The skull features a unique combination of primitive and modern features. The face resembles Homo sapiens more closely than the Nesher Ramla Homo, the report notes.

The skull measures 23cm long and more than 15cm wide. It’s significantly larger than a modern human head and has ample room for a modern human brain.

The skull features a thick brow ridge and large square eye sockets. But it’s also delicate despite its size. It belonged to a male about 50 years old who would have had a similarly impressive physique. A wide nose would allow the passage of vast volumes of air, which would support a high-energy lifestyle. The man’s overall size would have helped him withstand the very cold winters in the region.

“Homo longi is heavily built, very robust,” Hebei paleoanthropologist Prof Xijun Ni said. “It is hard to estimate the height, but the massive head should match a height higher than the average of modern humans.”

The researchers compared the Harbin skull to 95 others with the help of computer software and compiled the most likely family tree. That’s how they discovered that the Harbin skull and a few others from China formed a branch that’s closer to modern humans than Neanderthals.

While Chinese researchers believe the Harbin skull is distinct enough to make it a new humanoid species, others disagree. One of them is Prof Chris Stringer, research leader at the Natural History Museum in London, who worked on the “Dragon man” project. He said it was one of the most important findings of the past 50 years, “a wonderfully preserved fossil.” But he believes it is similar to another fossil found in Dali county in China. “I prefer to call it Homo daliensis, but it’s not a big deal,” he said. “The important thing is the third lineage of later humans that are separate from Neanderthals and separate from Homo sapiens.”

There’s a possibility the human belongs to the Denisovan, a group of extinct humans, but more research is required to prove the connection.

Regardless of the name or species, other researchers are excited by the finding, per The Guardian. “The beautifully preserved Chinese Harbin archaic human skull adds even more evidence that human evolution was not a simple evolutionary tree but a dense intertwined bush,” said UCL professor of earth system science Mark Maslin. “We now know that there were as many as 10 different species of hominins at the same time as our own species emerged.” Despite that, it’s the homo sapiens that ultimately came out as the dominant human species.

Data from the Harbin skull research was published in The Innovation in three separate papers: Here, here, and here.

Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he's not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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