What is human? We define it as the wise (sapiens) or modern species of the genus Homo (Human), as opposed to extinct or fossil humans. Recently, scientists have discovered two new types of humans: one in China called Homo longi (or Dragon Man); and the other is called Nesher Ramla Homo, discovered in Nesher Ramla, Israel. In this essay, I would highlight our current understanding of human evolution.

By Jamshed Arslan

Human Evolution

The modern Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa about 200 thousand years ago (tya) and spread to the rest of the world. You and I are a proof of that!

Before H. sapiens, several members of the human tribe (hominins) roamed around the earth, such as Australopithecus (“southern ape”), H. habilis (“handy man”) and H. erectus (“upright man”). The genus Australopithecus had several species living about 1-4 million years ago (mya). The first Australopithecus fossil was found in South Africa, and the most famous Australopithecus is ‘Lucy’, discovered in Ethiopia. It was probably Australopithecus who taught the H. habilis (2.4-1.5 mya) how to use stone tools. Closer to the arrival of modern H. sapiens were the H. erectus (2 mya – 200 tya) who discovered how to control fire.

There are at least two famous hominins that spent some time together with H. sapiens. One is called the Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) who lived in Eurasia (Europe and Asia) around 200 tya to as recent as 24 tya. The result: we had sex with Neanderthals on such a routine basis that each H. sapiens cell has Neanderthal DNA in it! The sex may not be as romantic as it sounds since H. sapiens eventually killed them all.

Denisovans is another group of hominins that shared the land with Neanderthals and H. sapiens around 40 tya. Denisovans also mated (had sex) with H. sapiens as evident from the Asian DNA.

            It must be emphasized here that the statement ‘humans descended from apes’ is a useless oversimplification that did not appear in any of the famous books by Charles Darwin, namely On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871). Despite anatomic similarities, humans are distinguishable from great apes (orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas) by highly developed brain, erect body and cultures.

‘Dragon Man’ in China

Recently, the largest known Homo skull is reported in Harbin City, China. Many believe that it belongs to Denisovans whose face had never been seen before. However, other researchers have coined a separate category called Homo longi or Dragon Man. The scientists believe that Harbin skull belonged to a 50-year-old man who lived in Northern China around 150-300 tya. Remember, the modern H. sapiens first appeared about 200 tya in Africa!

The face of Dragon Man looked like a zoomed-in version of modern humans: they had massive teeth, flat and low cheekbone, and thick brow ridges (separation between roof of eye sockets and forehead).

Scientists are not yet successful in extracting DNA. Only the DNA analysis can settle the debate whether the Harbin skull belongs to ‘Dragon Man’ or represents a transitional population between H. erectus and H. sapiens.

Nesher Ramla Homo in Israel

University of Tel Aviv and Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers found bones and stone tools in the Ramla city, Israel, that date between 120-140 tya. Researchers believe that a small groups of Nesher Ramla Homo spread out to Europe and Asia, and interbred with other hominins. Some believe that Nesher Ramla Homo were the ancestors of European Neanderthals. What brings Israel at the crossroad of human evolution is the realization that Nesher Ramla Homo had Neanderthal-like teeth, sapiens-like jaw bones, erectus-like skull cases and used sapiens-like tools.

As with the Dragon Man, scientists have not yet been able to extract DNA to shed further light on the topic.

Food for Thought

Modern humans evolved from hominin ancestors in terms of geography, walking upright on two feet, larger brains, and the ability to develop culture and civilization. We, Homo sapiens, have always considered ourselves unique, but scientific research is broadening our myopic view. Several human species have coexisted in Africa, Asia and Europe, and we now know that humans are a part of interconnected bush of life.


Important estimates mentioned in the essay


Period of existence or appearance

Million years ago (mya)

Thousand years ago (tya)


the southern ape

4 – 1 mya

Homo habilis,

the handy man

2.4 – 1.5 mya

Homo erectus,

upright man

2 mya – 200 tya

Homo neanderthalensis,


200 – 24 tya


40 tya

Homo longi,

Dragon Man

300 – 150 tya

Nesher Ramla Homo

140 – 120 tya

Homo sapiens,

Wise modern man

200 tya



By Jamshed Arslan

Pharm D (gold medalist); PhD (Neuropharmacology)Skilled in basic and clinical research and scientific writing, with over a decade of teaching and research experience.