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New Species of Ancient Human Discovered in Philippine Cave

13 April 2019

Callao Cave on Luzon Island, in the Philippines, is seen in a view taken from the rear of the first chamber of the cave, where the fossils of newly identified hominin species Homo luzonensis were discovered in the direction of the second chamber in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters April 10, 2019. The new species is called Homo luzonensis after the main northern island of Luzon, where the remains were dug up starting in 2007.

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. 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.

They consist of thirteen remains - teeth, hand and foot bones, as well as part of a femur - that belong to at least three adult and juvenile individuals.

The scientists are still trying to deduce how the now extinct species arrived on the island of Luzon, but it could mean they had the capacity to build a raft to sail there.

It remains a mystery how Homo luzonensis ended up on the island, but Détroit said there's evidence suggesting the move was deliberate.

The result is that our understanding of evolution in Asia is "messier, more complicated and a whole lot more interesting", said expert Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Stone tools and butchered remains of a rhinoceros suggested hominin activity on Luzon dating back at least 709,000 years.

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.

The causes of the species' demise are another open question, said the head of human origins research at London's Natural History Museum, Chris Stringer, adding that the growth of other human species in the area could have played a role. It might have been the newfound species or an ancestor of it, he said in an email. Fossil bones and teeth found in Cagayan province, northern Philippines, have revealed a long-lost cousin of modern people, which evidently lived around the time our own species was spreading to Africa to occupy the rest of the world.

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.

"Arrival by accident ... is favored by many scholars, but this is mainly because of arguments like "Homo erectus were not clever enough to cross the sea on purpose", said Détroit. They contain a mixture of old and new features that have excited scientists and threaten to overturn accepted theories of human evolution.

New Species of Ancient Human Discovered in Philippine Cave