Homo luzonensis: New Species of Ancient Human Discovered
An early human species with a unique mix of primitive (that is, Australopithecus-like) and derived (that is, Homo sapiens-like) morphological features lived in the Philippines approximately 50,000-70,000 years ago, an international team of paleoanthropologists has found.
Named Homo luzonensis, the new species was uncovered in Callao Cave in the Peñablanca region of northern Luzon, the Philippines.
The team, led by Australian National University’s Professor Philip Piper, found the remains of at least two adults and one juvenile within the same archaeological deposits.
“The fossil remains included adult finger and toe bones, as well as teeth,” Professor Piper said.
“We also recovered a child’s femur. There are some really interesting features — for example, the teeth are really small.”
“The size of the teeth generally, though not always, reflect the overall body-size of a mammal, so we think Homo luzonensis was probably relatively small.”
Exactly how small the researchers don’t know yet. They would need to find some skeletal elements from which they could measure body-size more precisely.
“It’s quite incredible, the extremities, that is the hand and feet bones are remarkably Australopithecine-like,” Professor Piper said.
“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.”
According to the team, Homo luzonensis also shares some unique skeletal features with the famous Homo floresiensis, discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores.
“While there are still plenty of questions around the origins of Homo luzonensis, and their longevity on the island of Luzon, recent excavations in the nearby Cagayan Valley produced evidence of a butchered rhinoceros and stone toolsdating to around 700,000 years ago,” Professor Piper said.
“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.”
“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.”
The discovery is reported in a paper published in the April 11 issue of the journal Nature.
Florent Détroit et al. 2019. A new species of Homo from the Late Pleistocene of the Philippines. Nature 568: 181-186; doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1067-9