Dragon Man from China

Dragon Man’s message to the world is “I got brain”.

His name comes from Heilongjiang – Black Dragon River.  This is the name of the province in northern China where the skull was found beside the Songhua River near Harbin.

The face of the man whose body this skull belonged to had deep-set eyes below massively heavy browridges.  His forehead was low, his skull long extending out at the back, and very robust with reinforced bones.  These primitive features combined with some more modern features such as delicate cheek bones and a flatter face due to reduction in the size of the jaw.  His nose was wide and teeth fairly large.

The skull is dated to between 309 000 and 138 000 years old.

The big surprise is that the cranial capacity of this skull is 1420 cc.  This is slightly above the modern average Homo sapiens size and definitely in the top range for a man of this time period.

What immediately strikes you is that this Dragon Man skull is remarkably similar to skulls classified as Homo heidelbergensis from Africa and Europe that mainly date from between 400 000 and 250 000 years ago.

For comparison take a look at these Homo heidelbergensis skulls:

Prehistoric skulls found in China:

  • The seven skulls found at Zhoukoudian Cave near Beijing / Peking – Peking Man have cranial capacities of 850 to 1225 cc and date from 500 000 to 400 000 years
  • The Dali skull found in Shaanxi Province has a cranial capacity of 1120 to 1200 cc and dates to between 250 000 – 128 000 years

Prehistoric skulls found in Europe:

  • Arago 21 found at Tautavel, France has a cranial capacity of 1100 to 1200 cc and dates to between 400 000 and 250 000 years
  • Petralona 1 from Greece has a cranial capacity of 1230 cc and dates to between 400 000 and 350 000 years
  • Three skulls from Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca, Spain have cranial capacities of 1125, 1220 and 1390 cc and date to 300 000 years

Prehistoric skulls found in Africa:

  • The Bodo skull from Ethiopia has a cranial capacity of 1250 cc and dates to 600 000 years
  • The Ndutu skull from Lake Ndutu, Tanzania has a cranial capacity of 1070 to 1120 cc and dates from 400 000 to 350 000 years
  • The Kabwe skull from Broken Hill, Zambia / Rhodesia – Rhodesia Man has a cranial capacity of 1300 cc and dates from between 324 000 and 274 000 years

The average cranial capacity for Homo heidelbergensis was 1200 cc.  The range, however, could extend from 1000 cc to 1400 cc.  The difference between male and female cranial capacity within a type can be as much as 195 cc.

Thus, you can see that the top of the range cranial capacity of the precursor type of human was equal to the average of the succeeding type.  1400 cc was the maximum for Homo heidelbergensis, but average for Homo sapiens.  Likewise, the upper limit for cranial capacity in Homo erectus was 1200 cc, and this was equal to the average size for Homo heidelbergensis.

Thus, Dragon Man fits perfectly into a category labelled Homo heidelbergensis who lived in Africa, Europe and northern Asia.  The features of this type are intermediate between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.  The former label for this type was ‘Archaic Homo sapiens’.

There is a temptation to place every new find in a separate species eg. Homo daliensis – Dali Man, and now Homo longi which means Dragon Man.  But then the human tree becomes a bush, and you can argue forever about every twig belonging to this bush, and ‘not see the wood for the trees’.  What is needed is clarity.

I refer to Homo heidelbergensis as Precursor Man (Homo praecursor) as this globally distributed early type gave rise to Contemporary Man (Homo aequalis) in the three main geographic regions of the world.  I have a problem with the label ‘Homo sapiens’ as if mind jumped into existence 100 000 years ago, as I believe that all forms of mankind have been both intelligent and fully human through prehistory.  Dragon Man had a good sized brain which he used for thinking like a human.

Precursor Man

Homo praecursor heidelbergensis (Homo heidelbergensis) 400 000 years ago in Europe

Caves had run out a long time ago and there were many tribes. Some tribes lived on grassland heaths, others in woodlands or in marshlands which they turned into fens. Each had their own type of staple food – in the fens they had reedmace roots, and in the woodland clearings root crops.

We were more for the parsnips but others went for turnips, and there were the novelty radishes. When visiting relatives we took a basket full of tubers as was the custom, picking out the best as a gift. We felt proud to select the best ones and we always got good produce in return.

When we got there we’d go straight out to inspect the vegetable plot and see how things were growing. We’d pop some of the root vegetables we’d brought into the soil to grow and produce more, then dig some others up for us to take home and for the feast.

The men had dug a large hole wielding stone axes hafted like a hoe. It was for the turf oven. They already had the bonfire lit to heat up stones for the oven when we joined them.

We started wrapping up roots and meat in large butterbur leaves (you could also use rhubarb leaves), and getting the shellfish ready that had been gathered in the early morning. It would all go into the hole with the hot stones, then be covered by leaves and turf.

We sat down with some drink served up in gourds and watched the steam rise out of the ground for about six hours. I don’t know what was in the drink – I saw they’d been fermenting it inside a dugout canoe – I got quite dizzy. The stories they were telling all became a blur. Then at last we got some food – you could feed a hundred people from a turf oven if you needed to.

Curanto en hoyo Chiloe, Chile 1990s – Turf oven with shellfish, pork, potatoes, beans and potatoe cakes (milcao) covered by gunnera leaves – a prehistoric turf oven would be supplied with wooden bowls and people not wearing these clothes but otherwise the same

Prehistoric Europeans looked like us

Prehistory had as many white people as black people and brown people.  It only depended on where the populations lived in terms of climate.

The first people to arrive in Europe got here over a million years ago.  After a few thousand years those who survived would be on the road to adaptation to a seasonal climate.

Homo heidelbergensis, who had spread all over Europe by 400 000 years ago, undoubtedly had white skin, brown, hazel or green eyes and brown or light brown hair.

European prototype features started to appear in the following species:

  • Homo ignis antecessor – Fire maker Man   [European Homo erectus; Homo antecesor / Spain] a million years ago
  • Homo praecursor heidelbergensis – Precursor Man   [Homo heidelbergensis] over 400 000 years ago
  • Homo centralis – Central Man / Black Sea, Central Asia  [Neanderthal man] over a 100 000 years ago
  • Homo aequalis – Contemporary Man / Israel  [Homo sapiens] 100 000 years ago

Homo sapiens is characterized as being ‘anatomically modern’. ‘Anatomically modern’ includes the following features:

  • Taller stature than previous types of man
  • A flatter rib cage
  • Marked differences between male and female skeletons
  • The skull has thinner bones
  • The skull has lost its brow ridges
  • The nose is larger and more prominent
  • The teeth are smaller and the jaw reduced in size
  • Reduction of the jaw gives a flatter face
  • The chin appears as the jaw is reduced
  • Above all, the cranial capacity is increased with the skull housing a larger brain.

Anthropologists often repeat that ‘anatomically modern’ humans evolved in Africa 100 000 to 200 000 years ago, and that only this type of prehistoric man was capable of human thought. But these anatomical features have clearly been evolving both in Europe and China for at least this amount of time.

Changes moving in the direction of ‘anatomically modern humans’ occurred in populations all over the world, not just in Africa. There is continuity between prehistoric species and modern-day populations both in Asia and Europe – this suggests that these people were our ancestors.

Do small differences in a skeleton cause someone to be human or not human? 

We now live with diversity every day, all around us, in a shared life and our answer is no.  Small differences are just part of human variety.  What matters is the mind of the person and how they think.

Can anthropology defend the thesis that all prehistoric European peoples were wiped out due to being inferior – replaced by migrants from the south?  I think we’re still all here and funnily enough we look very like our European white-skinned prehistoric ancestors who have lived in these parts for over a million years.

The Acheulean Culture of Archaic Homo sapiens

Through human invention and ingenuity a great culture was to grow up worldwide that was to cause the human body to evolve into a proto-type of modern man.  This occurred through adaptation to life styles set by human culture.

The revolution started with the mastery of making fire.  This set the scene for other cultural developments.

The earliest evidence of the controlled use of fire is from Xihoudu in Shanxi Province and in Yunnan Province, China dated to 1.7 million years.  This discovery was passed on to ‘Java man’ living at Trinil on the island of Java 830 000 years ago.  It was also passed on to ‘Peking man’ living in Zhoukoudian cave in China from 460 000 to 230 000 years ago.

Fire-making may have been discovered twice independently as there are two ways to make fire.  There is evidence for the use of fire in Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa dated to a million years ago.  This would have been passed on to the inhabitants of the Cave of Hearths in South Africa dated at 700 000 to 200 000 years ago.

The Asiatic method for making fire may have been the one involving flint stones struck with pyrite to produce sparks to light tinder.  The African method could have been the bow drill method involving use of a hardwood stick, a softwood base and a bow to drive the friction of the stick. 

Use of fire reached Spain, France and England 415 000 years ago.  In Europe people undoubtedly gathered around a fire to keep warm, but the game changer was cooking.  The cooking of meat allows more of it to be consumable for humans, but also vegetables can be consumed cooked that cannot be eaten raw.

The stone tool industry of the Acheulean included the iconic Acheulean stone axe either perfectly oval or pear-shaped.  Like the Oldowan stone tool industry which continued until 500 000 years ago, it is classified as a Lower Palaeolithic stone tool industry.  These tools were not made by brutes, but by skilled stone knappers.

The Acheulean stone axe is called a ‘hand-axe’ by anthropologists.  But even Homo heidelbergensis would not be daft enough to make a sharp edge on the side of a tool that he was holding in his hand.  These stone axes were hafted onto a wooden handle in a similar way to Homo sapien’s Neolithic stone axe.

The heavy stone axe could be used to work with wood.  For example, it could be used to hollow out a tree trunk to make a dug-out canoe.  Canoes allowed for migrations and expeditions up rivers; they also allowed islands in marshland to be inhabited.

The Acheulean culture had two centres – one was China and the other South and East Africa.  Acheulean stone axes were made by Olduvai man from Kenya one million years ago.  There may have been a coalescing of these two cultures in the Near East before the spread of Acheulean culture in Europe 400 000 years ago.

Homo antecessor was a gatherer of certain edible plants.  I believe that it was Homo pekinensis in China, Homo heidelbergensis in Europe and Olduvai man in Africa who started to replant some of these plants.  I see the Acheulean culture as marked by two main types of plant cultivation: the first was the cultivation of marshes turning them into fens.  The second was the cultivation of root crops in forest clearings.  Acheulean stone axes like later Neolithic stone axes would have helped in the preparation of land for planting.

Protein in the Acheulean diet came from animals hunted using traps and spears.  Even very large animals such as elephants were hunted in this way.  There were also nets and baskets for trapping eels and fish.

So camp fires, stone axes, dug-out canoes, cultivation of marsh plants or root crops, and cooking were the basis to a prehistoric culture that spread worldwide.  The number of sites greatly increased about 500 000 years ago since the population supported by this way of life greatly increased – it increased enough to make tribal warfare frequent.  Skulls display a developed brow ridge as natural defence from being clubbed over the head by warriors from a rival tribe.

The new diet of cooked meat and mashed up root vegetables caused the jaw and teeth to become smaller and the face flatter – this is closer to the modern human condition.

Stature was medium, and the body became wider for semi-sedentary populations who did not need to run fast or constantly walk.  Greater width of the body allowed females to give birth to larger babies so brain size for Homo heidelbergensis was between 1100 cc and 1400 cc; with the average being 1200 cc.

The three main racial types were developing 500 000 years ago.  Proto-mongoloids had bronze skin and dark hair; proto-caucasoids developed the Mediterranean type with tanned white or brown skin and brown hair; and proto-negroids developed darker skin in Africa where living exposed to the sun.

The success of the Acheulean culture is that it was counted in hundreds of thousands of years, maybe 600 000 years worldwide, and not the mere 6000 years that civilization and Neolithic agriculture has to its name.