New species of ancient human discovered in Philippine cave


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MANILA, Philippines – A new species of ancient human has just been discovered in a cave in Luzon.

New species of ancient human discovered in Philippine cave
Homo luzonensis, the fossils were dated to be from 50,000-67,000 years ago | Photo Courtesy:
Callao Cave Archeology Project

Archeologists and scientists are thrilled over a discovery of a set of fossils believed to belong to a new species of ancient human. The fossils were found in a cave in Callao, Luzon in the northern Philippines.

Named as Homo luzonensis, the fossils were dated to be from 50,000-67,000 years ago.

The excavation didn't find a complete skeleton but resulted to finding seven teeth, two hand bones, three foot bones and one thigh bone were found, thought to belong to two adults and one child. The fossils provided interesting clues to how the Homo luzonensis look like and their way of life.

Since the teeth were tiny, it's believed to be shorter than 4ft tall, even shorter than the Homo floresiensis dubbed as “hobbit” for its shortness.

A fascinating discovery is that the fossil yielded a curved toe bone, which is relatively similar to a far more ancient species such as Australopithecus, dated to around 2-3 million years ago. It is believed that the curved toe bone gives them an ability to walk on two legs and also climb trees.

New species of ancient human discovered in Philippine cave
Dr Armand Salvador Mijares shows the fossils of the Philippines’ ancient human | Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Michael Galvan Garlan

“The combination of features is like nothing we have seen before,” said María Martinón-Torres, the director of Spain’s National Research Center on Human Evolution, who was not involved in the new study.

Another mystery they are looking at is how these Homo arrived in the Philippines. Scientists are looking at the possibility that these early humans used some form of raft to cross the sea. Another theory is that they were washed in the island in a relatively large number after a tsunami.

“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’,” Florent Détroit, of the Natural History Museum in Paris and the paper’s first author.

Discovery

It was Armand Salvador Mijares, then a graduate student at the University of the Philippines who started digging at Callao Cave in the early 2000s. He was searching for traces of the first farmers in the country.

New species of ancient human discovered in Philippine cave
The Callao Cave holds many wonders | Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Since the discovery of Homo floresiensis in Indonesia, Mijares was curious if any ancient humans crossed and reached the Philippines.

“That inspired me to go back and go deep,” Mijares, now a professor at the University of the Philippines, said in an interview.

In 2007, Mijares decided to continue his excavation at the Callao Cave. His team team were disappointed because they thought they only gathered fossils were from forest animals.

It was Philip Piper, an archaeologist from UP, who noticed that among Mijares’ find resembled a human foot bone.

Mijares said, “It was small and there was something weird about it,” referring to the curved toe bone.

In 2011, Mijares’ team finally hit goldmine when they found more human-like fossils. They found teeth, part of a femur and even hand bones. In 2015, two molars dated to at least 50,000 years ago were found.

In 2018, a set of stone tools dating back 700,000 years was also found in a different cave in Luzon.

“One of the most important finds that will be out in the coming years.”

With the discovery, Luzon is now the third Southeast Asian island in the last 15 years to bear signs of ancient human activity.

Aida Gómez-Robles, a paleoanthropologist at University College London who reviewed the study before publication said, “It’s absolutely one of the most important findings that [will] be out in a number of years.”

— Sally, The Summit Express


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