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Trending Science: New human species found in the Philippines

Scientists have discovered fossils that reveal a long-lost cousin of modern humans.

Fundamental Research

Evidently, many discoveries about human evolution await beyond Africa. According to a study in the journal ‘Nature’, ancient bones and teeth found in Callao Cave on the island of Luzon belong to a previously unknown human species called Homo luzonensis. The remains combine primitive and modern features in a way never before observed together in one species. What makes this early human different from other species? The teeth, hand and foot bones are dated to between 67 000 and 50 000 years ago, and belong to 2 adults and 1 child. The teeth’s size and shape are unquestionably human. However, the fossils have certain characteristics that indicate they don’t belong to any other known human lineage. The research team is careful about describing Homo luzonensis’ physical appearance and way of life simply based on bones and teeth. Like other hominins – any relatives of modern humans dating from after our ancestors split from those of chimpanzees – Homo luzonensis is more of a close relative than a direct ancestor. It’s likely much smaller than Homo sapiens (early modern humans), but not as small as the diminutive 1-m-tall Homo floresiensis, or Hobbit, unearthed on the Indonesian island of Flores about 3 000 km from the Luzon site. “We have to stay cautious about it, especially because people will immediately have Homo floresiensis in mind as a ‘model’ for the physical appearance of Homo luzonensis, which was certainly not the case,” study author and palaeoanthropologist Dr Florent Détroit at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris told ‘Reuters’. “We can only speculate but it might be only in the range of a pygmy Homo sapiens,” added archaeologist Armand Mijares, leader of the Callao Archaeological Project. So little knowledge of human evolution in Asia “For years – and until less than 20 years ago – human evolution in Asia was seen as very simple, with Homo erectus going out of Africa, settling in east and southeast Asia, and then nothing happened until the arrival of Homo sapiens at around 40,000 to 50,000 years ago and its ‘conquest’ of every region on Earth,” Dr Détroit said. “With the discoveries made on the field – fossils – and in the lab, for instance genetics, we now know that it was a much more complex evolutionary history, with several distinct species contemporaneous with Homo sapiens, interbreeding events, extinctions, et cetera,” he added. “Homo sapiens was definitely not alone on Earth.” Speaking to ‘CNN’, Dr Détroit further explained about the teeth and bones: “If you take each feature one by one, you will also find it in one or several hominin species, but if you take the whole combination of features, no other species of the genus Homo is similar, thus indicating that they belong to a new species.” Dr Détroit concluded: “As we can see now, Southeast Asia, and especially their islands, is a fantastic place for studying hominin evolution, and conducting fieldwork to find more sites with ancient archaeology and hominin fossils.”

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