Published: Sat, April 13, 2019
Science | By Cecil Little

Bones from Philippine cave reveal a new human cousin

Bones from Philippine cave reveal a new human cousin

Bones and teeth belonging to two adults and one child who lived between 50,000 and 67,000 years ago were found in Callao Cave in the Philippines.

The bones and teeth of the new species, now described as a "hominin", were found in the Callao Cave on Luzon.

Scientists announced the discovery of a new species of ancient human, Homo luzonensis, on Wednesday.

The discovery of the "Hobbit" fossil, representing the hominin species Homo floresiensis, on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004, proved some of these experiments made their way to the isolated laboratories of Southeast Asian islands.

Homo luzonensis has some physical similarities to recent humans, but in other features hark back to the australopithecines, upright-walking ape-like creatures that lived in Africa between two and four million years ago, as well as very early members of the genus Homo.

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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.

And it makes our understanding of human evolution in Asia "messier, more complicated and whole lot more interesting", says one expert, Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. They have been dated to between 67,000 years and 50,000 years ago.

Florent Détroit, of the Natural History Museum in Paris and the paper's first author, also said the discovery provided the latest challenge to the fairly straightforward prevalent narrative of human evolution.

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. They are extraordinarily similar to ones seen in earlier hominins such as australopiths, the most likely ancestors of humans.

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. It might have been the newfound species or an ancestor of it, he said in an email. He speculated that it might have descended from an earlier human relative, Homo erectus, that somehow crossed the sea to Luzon.

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The fossil bones and teeth found about 3 meters (9.8 feet) below the ground in the cave show they belonged to small-bodied people.

The discovery of two odd species of early human in the past two decades are making paleontologists wonder about the history of humanity.

After all, he said in an interview, remains of the hobbits and H. luzonensis show a mix of primitive and more modern traits that differ from what's seen in H. erectus.

We thought it was Homo erectus who left Africa 1.9m years ago, but this suggests otherwise.

The discovery of Homo floresiensis and Homo luzonensis "really exposes how little we know about human evolution in Asia", Tocheri said.

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