A fossil skull called “Dragon Man” may rewrite an important chapter in human evolution.

A laborer discovered the skull in China at a construction site 85 years ago, and hid it in an abandoned well.

Carl Zimmer at The New York Times:

In 1933, a laborer working at a bridge construction site in the city of Harbin discovered the peculiar skull. It’s likely that the man — whose name has been withheld by his family — recognized that he had found a scientifically important specimen. Just four years earlier, researchers had found another humanlike skull, nicknamed Peking Man, near Beijing. It appeared to link the people of Asia to their evolutionary forerunners.

Rather than hand over the new skull to the Japanese authorities who occupied northeast China at the time, the laborer chose to hide it. He did not mention the skull to anyone for decades. In an account of the fossil’s discovery, the authors of the new papers speculated that he was ashamed of having worked for the Japanese.

Shortly before his death in 2018, the laborer told his family about the fossil. They went to the well and found it. The family donated it to the Geoscience Museum of Hebei GEO University, where scientists immediately could see that it had been exquisitely well preserved.

Some scientists that the 140,000+-year-old skull may belong to a species that was present-day humanity’s closest ancestor. Others disagree. But they all agree it’s a magnificent specimen.

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