Two strange new skulls have been found in Israel and China. The latter, “Dragon Man,” has been proposed as Homo longi, a new human species! Even if it turns out to be the first Denisovan skull we’ve found, it’s still huge–both literally and figuratively!
These finds drive home a sad fact: it’s a lonely time to be human. Not long ago (okay, relatively) Homo sapiens was just one of at least SIX human species sharing our planet simultaneously.
We needn’t be lonely for long. Soon we’ll have the opportunity to de-extinct some of our lost fellow humans, get another chance to look into their eyes, and know them.
But should we? It’d certainly be interesting. For one, I suspect it will put our stubborn hang-ups around race into perspective. The minor variations we habitually overemphasize will probably seem a wee bit less significant when we share the room with 8-ft tall Denisovans, their massive grins revealing teeth so big archaeologists first thought they belonged to a cave bear, and peeking out from behind them, the 3-ft-tall Homo floresiensis “hobbits” of Indonesia, along with the even more petite Homo luzonensis, perhaps standing on the shoulders of a thickly muscled Neanderthal while our 90-lb tree-climbing cousin Homo naledi dangles from a ceiling pipe.
Which begs the question: if we’re somehow still stumbling over variations as minor as skin pigmentation, how will we treat these humans? Especially if they don’t possess the kinds of intelligence necessary to integrate into our society? And what if it turns out WE’RE the dummies? How will they treat us?
Pretty fun to think about, right? Hey, someone should write a book series about what happens when we bring back extinct hominins! Wink. Stay tuned for Hangman. Book 1 is about to go on submission while I flesh out Books 2-4. Fingers crossed, please. In the meantime, check out my story in Nature, “The Descent of Man,” which became the basis for Chapter 1 of the Hangman saga, along with my guest post for Nature about the science and inspiration behind this series.
A day may come when the great beasts of the past will leap to life again in our imaginations, when we shall walk again in vanished scenes, stretch painted limbs we thought were dust, and feel again the sunshine of a million years ago.
-H.G. Wells, “The Grisly Folk”
Further reading about these exciting new finds:
For a look at the science behind de-extinction, try Regenesis, by George Church and Ed Regis.
~CW, a H. sapiens of significant Neanderthal descent, with possible minor Denisovan contributions.