Published: Sat, April 13, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Bones found in Philippines may belong to previously unknown human relative

Bones found in Philippines may belong to previously unknown human relative

Scientists have found a few bones and seven teeth belonging to a previously unknown species of human.

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 finger and toe bones are curved, suggesting climbing was still an important activity for this species.

Fifteen years ago, scientists revealed an unusual extinct human species from the Indonesian island of Flores - Homo floresiensis, often called "the hobbit" due to its diminutive size, which lived on Earth during the same time as modern humans.

For a long time, theories of evolution centred around the idea that an early species called Homo erectus began dispersing from Africa between 1.5 million to two million years ago. The new species raises many questions, including who were its ancestors and how did it move?

It's yet another reminder that, although Homo sapiens is now the only surviving member of our branch of the evolutionary tree, we've had company for most of our existence.

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The new specie is called Homo luzonensis after the main northern island of Luzon, where the remains were dug up starting in 2007.

And it makes our understanding of human evolution in Asia "messier, more complicated and whole lot more interesting", says one expert, Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Bones of deer and related animals were found in the area, some with cut marks, suggesting they were butchered although there were no stone tools or sharp implements found in the immediate area where the human fossils were dug up, Mijares said.

"It's a mixture that we haven't seen in other species", said Detroit.

Mr Détroit said: "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". 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. And maybe another as-yet unknown creature (other than H. erectus) slipped out of Africa to later give rise to the newly discovered species.

The discovery of a new human relative on Luzon might be "smoke from a much, much bigger fire", he said. But other researchers have argued that the Hobbits were descended from Homo erectus but that some of their anatomy reverted to a more primitive state.

Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, said the Luzon find "shows we still know very little about human evolution, particularly in Asia".

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