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Fields & Applications Forensics, Mass Spectrometry, Spectroscopy

Stashed Skull, Hidden Dragon (Man)

A team of researchers from Hebei GEO University, China, have recently published findings that suggest a human fossil known as the Harbin cranium represents a new lineage in the Homo family tree – and potentially our closest relatives (1,2,3). 

One of the best preserved human fossils, the Harbin cranium was discovered in the 1930s near the Songhua River in Northeastern China – but it has raised questions ever since. To confirm the provenance of the skull, the team analyzed the concentrations of rare earth elements and the strontium isotopic ratio via ICP-MS, followed by XRF fluorescence spectroscopy to determine the distributions of these elements. The results confirmed the fossil does indeed hail from the Harbin area, with direct uranium-series dating placing it in the late Middle Pleistocene era. 

Based on further morphological evidence, the authors suggest the Harbin skull should be recognized as a new sister species in itself – the Homo longi or “Dragon Man.” Though still up for debate among scientists, such a classification would disrupt our current understanding of human evolution. 

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  1. Q Shao et al., The Innovation (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.xinn.2021.100131 
  2. Q ji et al., The Innovation (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.xinn.2021.100132
  3. X Ni et al., The Innovation (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.xinn.2021.100130 

About the Author

Lauren Robertson

By the time I finished my degree in Microbiology I had come to one conclusion – I did not want to work in a lab. Instead, I decided to move to the south of Spain to teach English. After two brilliant years, I realized that I missed science, and what I really enjoyed was communicating scientific ideas – whether that be to four-year-olds or mature professionals. On returning to England I landed a role in science writing and found it combined my passions perfectly. Now at Texere, I get to hone these skills every day by writing about the latest research in an exciting, creative way.

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