A New Human Species Has Been Discovered in the Philipines

The fossils excavated by experts date back to around 50,000 years.

Researchers have reported the discovery of a hitherto unknown hominid species, baptized as Homo luzonensis. The fossils with distinctive features were found in a cave on the Philippine island of Luzon. The species inhabited this area between 50,000 and 67,000 years ago.

When you thought that our entire picture of hominin evolution couldn’t get any more complicated, scientists find a new human ancestor.

Thanks to the discovery of a previously unknown hominin species on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, researchers have confirmed the discovery of yet another, distant, ancient human ancestor.

The new species, called Homo luzonensis, is thought to have lived at around the same time as the “Hobbits” of nearby Flores (Homo floresiensis).

During excavations carried out in 2007, 2011 and 2015 in the Callao cave, researchers came across several teeth as well as bone fragments.

The bone from the base of the toe (proximal phalanx) from Homo luzonensis. Image Credit: Detroit et al. 2019.
The bone from the base of the toe (proximal phalanx) from Homo luzonensis. Image Credit: Detroit et al. 2019.

The remains found provided the earliest direct evidence of human presence in the Philippines.

According to the researchers, the remains they discovered belonged to at least three individuals of the new species.

Homo luzonensis stood at less than four feet tall, which scientists figured out based on the small size of its teeth.

During the time that Homo luzonensis roamed the Luzon island in the Asian archipelago, Neanderthals were beginning to make their presence known in Asia.

The new hominid species had weird fingers, as scientist say that both its fingers and toes were curved, which allowed the species to climb trees, something that they apparently loved doing.

According to co-author and a lead member of the team, Professor Philip Piper from The Australian National University (ANU) the discovery represents a major breakthrough in our understanding of human evolution across Southeast Asia.

“The fossil remains included adult finger and toe bones, as well as teeth. We also recovered a child’s femur. There are some really interesting features — for example, the teeth are really small,” Professor Piper revealed.

“The size of the teeth generally, though not always, reflect the overall body-size of a mammal, so we think Homo luzonensis was probably relatively small. Exactly how small we don’t know yet. We would need to find some skeletal elements from which we could measure body-size more precisely” Professor Piper said.

“It’s quite incredible, the extremities, that is the hand and feet bones are remarkably Australopithecine-like. The Australopithecines last walked the earth in Africa about 2 million years ago and are considered to be the ancestors of the Homo group, which includes modern humans.

Two premolars and three molars from the upper right jaw of the same Homo luzonensis adult. Image Credit: Detroit et al. 2019.
Two premolars and three molars from the upper right jaw of the same Homo luzonensis adult. Image Credit: Detroit et al. 2019.

“So, the question is whether some of these features evolved as adaptations to island life, or whether they are anatomical traits passed down to Homo luzonensis from their ancestors over the preceding 2 million years.”

While the discovery is certainly a major breakthrough, there are still many questions surrounding this mysterious early human species. We don’t know how long they’ve lived on the Island for example. So far, excavations near Callao Cave have yielded evidence of a butchered rhinoceros and stone tools dating to around 700,000 years ago.

“No hominin fossils were recovered, but this does provide a timeframe for a hominin presence on Luzon. Whether it was Homo luzonensis butchering and eating the rhinoceros remains to be seen,” Professor Piper explained.

“It makes the whole region really significant. The Philippines is made up of a group of large islands that have been separated long enough to have potentially facilitated archipelago speciation. There is no reason why archaeological research in the Philippines couldn’t discover several species of hominin. It’s probably just a matter of time.”

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