A new species of Homo found in the Philippines

Researchers have uncovered a new species of human in the Philippines. The discovery highlights the complexity of the evolution, dispersal and diversity of the genus Homo beyond Africa, particularly in the islands of Southeast Asia, during the Pleistocene (2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago).

The new species—Homo luzonensis—has been named after Luzon Island, where the more-than-50,000 year old fossils were found during excavations at Callao Cave. The team of international researchers led by Australian National University‘s Professor Philip Piper (ANU) uncovered the remains of at least two adults and one juvenile in the same archaeological deposits. The details of the study have just been published in the journal Nature.

“The fossil remains included adult finger and toe bones, as well as teeth. We also recovered a child’s femur. There are some really interesting features—for example, the teeth are really small,” Professor Piper said. “The size of the teeth generally, though not always, reflects the overall body-size of a mammal, so we think Homo luzonensis was probably relatively small. Exactly how small we don’t know yet. We would need to find some skeletal elements from which we could measure body-size more precisely,” he added. “It’s quite incredible, the extremities, that is the hand and feet bones are remarkably Australopithecine-like. The Australopithecines last walked the earth in Africa about 2 million years ago and are considered to be the ancestors of the Homo group, which includes modern humans. So, the question is whether some of these features evolved as adaptations to island life, or whether they are anatomical traits passed down to Homo luzonensis from their ancestors over the preceding 2 million years,” Prof Piper remarked.

The discovery is even more intriguing in light of the recent excavations near Callao Cave which produced evidence of a butchered rhinoceros and stone tools dating to around 700,000 years ago. In this case, “No hominin fossils were recovered, but this does provide a timeframe for a hominin presence on Luzon. Whether it was Homo luzonensis butchering and eating the rhinoceros remains to be seen,” Professor Piper commented. “It makes the whole region really significant. The Philippines is made up of a group of large islands that have been separated long enough to have potentially facilitated archipelago speciation. There is no reason why archaeological research in the Philippines couldn’t discover several species of hominin. It’s probably just a matter of time.” Interestingly, Homo luzonensis shares some unique skeletal features with Homo floresiensis, discovered in 2004 on the island of Flores (Indonesia), to the south east of the Philippine archipelago. Furthermore, stone tools dating to around 200,000 years ago have been found on the island of Sulawesi (just South of the Philippines). All these findings highlights how ancient hominins potentially inhabited many of the large islands of Southeast Asia and could thus be of great interest for uncovering the evolution of the Homo species.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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