Hi and welcome back! I love ancient history and archaeology, so I keep up with news about it. And this news is something special indeed. See, we’ve found yet another ancient pre-human species. And this one might be our closest neighbor of all. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the increasingly-crowded ancient world that gave rise to all of us.
(Pre-show notes: The Disqus word filter is not gonna like today’s post at all. If you need to write the species name in comments, add a number or something after it to avoid going into unnecessary moderation.)
(1st-Century Friday topic can be found here.)
Everyone, Meet Dragon Man. Or One Bit of Him, Anyway.
Way back in 1933, this story from Science News tells us, a Chinese laborer dug up a curious skull while working on a bridge construction site in Harbin, China (in the northeast part of the country). Eventually, the skull ended up in the hands of the grandson of one of that laborer’s coworkers.
That’s their story and they are stickin’ to it, at any rate. Researchers couldn’t actually confirm any of these details. What they do know is that the skull’s ultimate owner gave it to a paleontologist named Qiang Ji, who worked for a museum associated with a university in Shijiazhuang, China.
Even completely lacking provenance, the skull fascinated researchers. They realized it could represent a whole new species of Homo.
The Homo part of the species name means the skull belonged to a human, much like us. We’re Homo sapiens sapiens — there’s at least one other Homo sapiens species that isn’t us: Homo sapiens idaltu. Now, this skull didn’t represent a Homo sapiens species. Even so, it’s very important as a member of the Homo family. The paleontologists decided to call it Homo longi, abbreviated H. longi.
The “longi” in his species name refers to the nickname for the province in which the skull was found. It means “Dragon River.” Thus, the skull (and its long-ago owner) came to be called Dragon Man.
What Was Dragon Man Like?
A paper from The Innovation says the skull was indeed probably from a man who might have been about 50 when he died. (But his tooth wear wasn’t too extreme, so maybe he was younger.) The skull reveals that Dragon Man had a large brain, short face, thick brow ridges, and “almost square” eye sockets. That makes him a lot like Neanderthals and some extinct Homo species. Those similar species lived during the Middle Pleistocene (789k – 130k years ago).
Y’all know I love reconstructions, right? So here’s his:
By “large brain,” researchers mean he had a lot of room in his skull for a big brain. The Innovation says the skull’s cranial capacity was about 1420 mL. Our own skulls hold about 1400. That link goes on to tell us:
Our brains are almost double the size of early Homo habilis and almost three times the size of early australopithecines.
That kind of brain capacity is important. It could relate to how we came to be sentient and sapient in the first place.
So Dragon Man has a mixture of features from older species and current ones from his time. He’s pretty late on the timeline, but his people fit neatly into the overall timeline of human evolution and migration.
In a lot of ways, then, Dragon Man helps us round out our understanding of how H. sapiens arose and how we moved through the world. Speaking of:
Our Neighbor, Dragon Man.
There’s another facet to this story that caught my eye. Dragon Man is one of our closest neighbors, evolutionarily speaking. That Innovation article tells us that a bunch of earlier H. species existed right alongside ours:
During the late Middle and Late Pleistocene, several human lineages, evidently at species level, coexisted with H. sapiens across Africa and Eurasia. These extinct hominins include H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis, Homo naledi, Homo floresiensis, H. luzonensis, Denisovans, Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis), and Homo erectus. [Source]
They’ve got cited sources for all of that, so feel free to check them out.
Researchers tested Dragon Man’s skull to discover that it was at least 146,000 years old. That’s important, because H. sapiens emerged about 200,000 years ago. They also analyzed the bits of sediment still clinging to the skull, and yes, it does seem to come from the Harbin area.
So if H. sapiens first arose in Asia, and H. longi is from that part of the world too, we probably lived alongside each other for a while — along with the Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans. China was apparently a big hotspot of early human activity, thanks to its climate at the time.
The Dragon Man people may also have interbred with our ancestors. Those researchers plan next to try to extract identifiable DNA from the skull. (And they will likely succeed — a lot of its teeth are intact, and from what I’ve heard that’s a good place to find DNA.)
Our Knowledge Only Continues to Expand.
As time goes on, we find more and more stuff that helps expand our understanding of our history as a species. It’s just absolutely fascinating to see the puzzle pieces fitting together. Because we don’t just trust the puzzle box to tell us what the puzzle looks like ahead of time, we can figure this stuff out and be way more accurate in the doing.
And yes, I’m referring to that old atheism meme. Out of everything that meme fits well, ancient history might be what it describes best.
The more puzzle pieces we find about our earliest days as a species, the more we discover that the emerging picture doesn’t look anything like what Christians’ puzzle-box cover depicts. The picture we’re filling in looks way, way more interesting than anything that cover could ever have to say.
And y’all, it’s only going to get more interesting from here.
Sooner or later, I don’t think many people will even know what Christians’ puzzle’s box cover said, nor care — except insofar as it, too, represents a piece of the real puzzle.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over our increasingly busy ancient neighborhood — and the picture we’re putting together with all these puzzle pieces we’re finding.
NEXT UP: A while ago, disgraced ex-pastor James MacDonald threw his previous friends under the bus. I wonder what they think of his current antics? We’ll find out tomorrow. See you then! <3
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1st-Century Friday Topic:
Homework is not required. However, if you want to read along with me, then these sources are what I’ll be drawing from.
About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)
Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind: there’s no official topic on these days. I’m just starting us off with something, but consider the sky the limit here. We especially welcome pet pictures! So what’s on your mind today?