The Exciting Case of China’s ‘Dragon Man’

Mesolithic era skull
Mesolithic era skull of the theviec burial. (Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jim Brace-Thompson

The story reads like an exciting detective yarn complete with wartime drama, a deathbed confession, and a name just made for newspaper headlines.

A wonderfully complete skull was unearthed in a riverbank and hidden from view in China during forced labor to build a bridge over the Songhua River under Japanese occupation leading up to World War II. The young Chinese laborer who made the find had wrapped and lowered it into a well to hide it from occupying forces. As he lay dying, nearly 90 years later, he finally told his story to his grandchildren, who prefer to remain anonymous.

Now the skull has been unearthed once again in a series of papers in the journal The Innovation, where paleontologist Qiang Ji and colleagues have named it Homo longi. Translation? “Dragon Man”!

Per their analysis, this fossil human is a step closer to modern Homo sapiens than the Ice Age Neanderthals, who have long been considered our closest relative on the human family tree.

While the Chinese team has given the skull a whole new taxonomic designation, other scientists suspect that Dragon Man may represent the first nearly complete skull of a group of ancient hominins known as the Denisovans, or “an extinct cousin of the Neanderthals.” Up to now, Denisovans chiefly have been known from bits and pieces of bone, teeth, and DNA, as well as the stone tools they left behind in various sites across Asia and Siberia. In the journal Science, some are saying this skull “may reveal the long-sought face of a Denisovan” from between 183,000 and 309,000 years ago.

Is it so? Stay tuned! This detective yarn is just beginning.

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids and has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category.
Contact him at


Magazine subscription

If you enjoyed what you’ve read here we invite you to consider signing up for the FREE Rock & Gem weekly newsletter. Learn more>>>

In addition, we invite you to consider subscribing to Rock & Gem magazine. The cost for a one-year U.S. subscription (12 issues) is $29.95. Learn more >>>


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here