He was a big guy, somewhere around 50 years old when he died, and his discovery might just change the narrative on how modern humans came to be. Introducing Dragon Man, so nicknamed for China's Dragon River region where his well-preserved skull was found, reports CNN. Researchers say he lived somewhere between 140,000 and 300,000 years ago, though he is not quite Neanderthal and not quite Homo sapien, per the Guardian. In fact, they have found Dragon Man to be distinct enough to create a new species for him—Homo longi, and they say this species is more closely related to modern humans than Neanderthals. "If confirmed, that would change how scientists envision the origin of Homo sapiens, which has been built up over the years from fossil discoveries and the analysis of ancient DNA," per the New York Times.
Even if the new species is not confirmed, however—and coverage includes the voices of skeptics—the consensus is unanimous that the skull is still an amazing find. As is its back story. In 1933, a Chinese laborer working on a bridge found the skull in the city of Harbin. He took it home and buried it in a well for safekeeping, possibly because he didn't want it to fall into the hands of Japanese occupiers. It remained undisturbed until 2018, when the man spoke of it before his death. That resulted in its retrieval and the new studies in the journal Innovation. “I think this is one of the most important finds of the past 50 years,” says Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, one of the researchers. Dragon Man had an unusually large head, one big enough to carry a brain larger than our own, with a large brow and a wide, bulbous nose. "Home longi is heavily built, very robust," says Xijun Ni of Hebei Geo University in China. (Read more discoveries stories.)