Potential new species of human found in cave in Philippines

Eloise Marshall
April 13, 2019

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

But the theory has been challenged by discoveries in recent years of species that do not appear to be descended from Homo erectus, including Homo floresiensis, the so-called "hobbit" found in 2004 on an Indonesian island.

Both small humans probably shrunk in a process called "island dwarfing" which occurs due to limited resources when species are cut off from the mainland.

Filipino archeologists searching Callao Cave for fossil bones and teeth found in the northern Philippines.

Callao Cave on Luzon Island of the Philippines, where the fossils of Homo luzonensis were discovered.

Prof Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, commented: "After the remarkable finds of the diminutive Homo floresiensis were published in 2004, I said that the experiment in human evolution conducted on Flores could have been repeated on numerous other islands in the region".

Today, only one species of this group remains, Homo sapiens, to which everyone on Earth belongs.

It also raises questions, including how the species arrived on the island and who its ancestors were.

The finger and toe bones are curved, suggesting they were good for climbing.

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In particular, the teeth they found had a surprising combination of elements from different early humans.

Interestingly, scientists have also argued that Homo floresiensis shows physical features that are reminiscent of those found in australopithecines. "I believe that the designation of a new species is appropriate". Although it seems unlikely that enough hominins might raft to an island this way at roughly the same time to set up a breeding population, "monkeys did it from Africa to South America", Tocheri said.

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". "These discoveries are showing what happened there was just as interesting as what occurred in Africa". The most obvious candidate is Homo erectus, fossils of which were discovered in the 1890s on the Indonesian island of Java.

It remains uncertain who the ancestors of Homo luzonensis and Homo floresiensis were.

Homo erectus has long thought to have been the first member of our direct line to leave the African homeland - around 1.9 million years ago.

Future research may turn up DNA from these island fossils.

The "remarkable discovery. will no doubt ignite plenty of scientific debate over the coming weeks, months and years", said Matthew Tocheri, associate professor of anthropology at Canada's Lakehead University, in a review commissioned by Nature.

"We completed the comparisons and analyses, and it confirmed that this was something special, unlike any previously described species of hominins in the homo genus", added Detroit, a palaeoanthropologist at France's Musee de l'Homme.

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