World News: possible new hominin species, ancient shark attack, Mesolithic honey-gathering

New hominin identified in China?

Recent reanalysis of a cranium – first discovered during the construction of a bridge over the Songhua River in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, in 1933 – suggests that it could represent a previously unknown ancient hominin species. The new analysis was carried out by a team led by Professor Qiang Ji from the Hebei GEO University in collaboration with Professor Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum.

Dated to at least 146,000 years ago, the cranium displays some Neanderthal-like features, including a long and low braincase and prominent brow ridge, but also has a low face and delicate cheekbones, which are more reminiscent of modern humans. With only one example to go on, though, the jury is still out as to whether this is in fact a new species or perhaps related to other hominins found in the region – such as that of Dali Man, another cranium found in China, previously identified as either Homo erectus or archaic Homo sapiens.

The research was recently published in three papers in the journal The Innovation.

Mesolithic honey-gathering

A detailed depiction of Mesolithic honey-gathering has been found painted in the rock shelter of Barranco Gómez in Castellote, Spain. Believed to date to c.7,500 years ago, the painting shows a human figure climbing a ladder to gather honey from a beehive, offering evidence of the advanced ropemaking and climbing techniques that may have been in use at this time. In particular, a pole appears to have been used halfway up to fix the ladder to the rock in order to make it more stable.

Photo: Martínez-Bea, Domingo, Angás Pajas, 2021.

The research was recently published in the journal Trabajos de Prehistoria.

Jaws in Japan, c.1300 BC

A recent study, led by researchers from the University of Oxford, has identified what could be the remains of an early shark attack victim. The individual in question, an adult man, died between 1380 and 1010 BC and was buried on the Japanese island of Honshu. He appears to have received significant injuries to his body that occurred at or around the time of his death, with a total of at least 790 wounds recorded. The puncture marks imprinted on the bone suggest that they may have been made by either a tiger or white shark.

During this time in Japan, hunter-gatherers were starting to take advantage of marine resources, and it is thought that the man may have been attacked while fishing. If that is the case, his companions appear to have rescued him from the water and given him a proper burial.

The full results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.