Published: Sat, April 13, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Bones from Philippine cave reveal a new human cousin

Bones from Philippine cave reveal a new human cousin

A new human species called Homo luzonesis has been discovered by a team led by University of the Philippines associate professor Armand Salvador Mijares from fossils excavated in Callao Cave in Peñablanca, Cagayan.

The discovery of remains of at least three individuals from this species, named Homo luzonensis, in Callao Cave on the northern part of the island of Luzon, marked the second time in the 21st century that a bygone member of the human family has been found on southeast Asian islands.

In particular, the newly discovered luzonensis has a foot bone that is unlike any of its known human contemporaries but closely resembles those of a human species known to have existed in Africa around two to three million years earlier.

It also not known whether the newly discovered Homo luzonensis related to another ancient species, the Homo floresiensis, also called the "hobbit", which was discovered in Indonesia 15 years ago. Both species lived around 50,000 years ago, at a time when Asia was also home to our species, the Neanderthals and a group called the Denisovans.

The discovery of Homo luzonensis presents new questions about which hominins left Africa first and how hominin species ended up on island isolated by water.

"The evolution of Homo is getting weirder and weirder", Rick Potts, head of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, told NPR.

A handout image made available by Florent Detroit and taken on August 9, 2011 shows a view of the excavation in the Callao Cave in the north of Luzon Island, in the Philippines, where an global multidisciplinary team discovered a new hominin species, Homo Luzonensis.

But some human relative was on Luzon more than 700,000 years ago, as indicated by the presence of stone tools and a butchered rhino dating to that time, he said.

"As for the fate of luzonensis, it is too early to say whether the spread of Homo sapiens into the region at least 50,000 years ago might have been a factor in its disappearance", he said.

It is now unknown how the species went extinct, but as is the case with most extinctions, scholars believe we may have had something to do with it.

The remains of the new hominin contained a mixture of old and new features, in a discovery that could revolutionise accepted theories of human evolution.

Mr Détroit said: "Arrival by accident ... is favoured by many scholars, but this is mainly because of arguments like "Homo erectus were not clever enough to cross the sea on purpose". The remains included teeth, bones from hands and feet, and something that seems to be a leg bone.

Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, said the Luzon find "shows we still know very little about human evolution, particularly in Asia". The most obvious candidate is Homo erectus, fossils of which were discovered in the 1890s on the Indonesian island of Java.

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