Research

Potential new species of human found in cave in Philippines

Potential new species of human found in cave in Philippines

The fossils were identified to be 50,000 to 67,000 years old, which makes them the earliest human remains to be discovered in the Philippines.

Armand Salvador Mijares shows hominid fossils and teeth from at least three individuals discovered in an excavation site inside Callao Cave in Cagayan. While the molars of H luzonensis were strikingly small - similar in size to those of modern humans - they shared other characteristics with those of far more primitive hominins, including one known for its massive jaws and teeth.

H. luzonensis lived in eastern Asia at around the same time as not only our species but other members of the Homo branch, including Neanderthals, their little-understood Siberian cousins the Denisovans, and the diminutive "hobbits" of the island of Flores in Indonesia.

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, according to Mr Detroit.

"This puts the Philippines, our scientific community in the spotlight", Mijares said. The report of the discovery was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday titled "A new species of Homo from the Late Pleistocene of the Philippines".

With each new discovery, the story of human evolution becomes increasingly complicated. From left are two premolars and 3 molars. Then, after a few hundred-thousand years, our own ancestors dispersed from Africa about 50,000 years ago.

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"In our disciplines, you can never expect to find a new species - this is a very rare event", said study lead author Florent Détroit, a paleoanthropologist at France's National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Previous research has shown that a small, isolated population can experience accelerated evolution, Détroit said. Previously, Homo sapiens remains were found on Palawan island and dated to between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago.

While the archaeological find could attract more scientists, Dizon anxious that it could also draw vandals and treasure hunters who could threaten the seven-chamber cave complex, which is a popular tourism destination. "Maybe it will reignite their kind of activity so that's why it needs protection now more than ever".

But luzonensis are different from other species due to their distinct premolar teeth which vary considerably from anything identified in the other species belonging to the Homo genus. This view is taken from the rear of the first chamber of the cave, where the fossils were found, in the direction of the second chamber.

The main exodus of our own species from Africa that all of today's non-African people are descended from took place around 60,000 years ago. They belong to a previously unknown member of the "Homo" branch of our family tree: the Homo luzonensis.

One of the toe bones and the overall pattern of tooth shapes and sizes differ from what's been seen before, but scientists don't know exactly how the creature is related to us or our other close evolutionary kin. The remains included teeth, bones from hands and feet, and something that seems to be a leg bone.