Fossils Of Ancient Human Species Unearthed In The Philippines

Homo luzonensis lived between 50,000 to 67,000 years ago, says an international team of scientists who uncovered the fossils in the Callao Cave of Northern Philippines.

AsianScientist (Apr. 12, 2019) – An international team of scientists has identified a previously unknown hominin species buried in a cave in Northern Philippines. Their findings are published in the journal Nature.

The descent of modern humans from ancestral hominin species is a research area of intense debate as scientists continue to unearth new fossils across the globe. One human ancestor was discovered in Asia in 2004—Homo floresiensis, characterized by its short stature and earning it the moniker of the Hobbit. Each new hominin species found helps scientists piece together the timeline of human evolution and migration.

In this study, researchers led by archaeologist Dr. Armand Mijares at the University of the Philippines Diliman, the Philippines, dug up hominin fossils three meters below the current surface of the Callao Cave, located in Northern Philippines. The excavation lasted from 2007 to 2015. The team uncovered the remains of two foot bones, a thigh bone, two hand bones and seven teeth at the site, belonging to three different individuals: two adults and one child.

Initially, based on the foot bone (third metatarsal), the researchers did not immediately identify the fossil as a new human species. However, collaborative analysis with colleagues in France later revealed that the bones were distinct from other ancient hominins. Their specimen had unique features, including the shape of its foot bone and the relatively smaller size of its premolars compared to the other molars.

“We say that this is a new species as the assemblage of bones present a mosaic of primitive—Australopithecine-like features and derived Homo sapiens or modern human features,” said Mijares at a press conference in Manila.

Using uranium-series dating, the researchers determined that the fossils were between 50,000 and 67,000 years old, making them one of the earliest known human species to have been found in the Philippines, predating the Tabon man, a Homo sapiens specimen found in the caves of the Philippines’ Palawan island.

The team named their specimen Homo luzonensis, after Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. Scientists believe that Luzon has always been an island detached from mainland Asia and was not accessible by foot during the Quaternary period (about 2.588 million years ago to present). Locally, the species is known as “Ubag,” after a mythical caveman.

“But where does H. luzonensis fit in the human family tree? At this time, we don’t know. We need more research,” said Mijares, cautioning that it is too early to make any conclusions about how H. luzonensis looked like, how they lived and how they arrived on the island.

Nonetheless, the researchers noted that their discovery highlights the complexity and diversity of ancient human migrations and raises new questions about the evolutionary history of the Southeast Asian islands.

The article can be found at: Détroit et al. (2019) A New Species of Homo From the Late Pleistocene of the Philippines.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Museum of Natural History, Paris, France.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Shai Panela is an award-winning freelance science journalist based in the Philippines. She was part of the Asian Science Journalism fellowship program of the World Federation of Science Journalists in 2013 and covers stories in science, health, technology and the environment.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist