New early human species discovered in the Philippines | News | DW | 11.04.2019
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New early human species discovered in the Philippines

A long-lost cousin of Homo sapiens has been discovered in a cave in the Philippines. The previously unknown species makes our understanding of evolution "messier, more complicated and a whole lot more interesting."

 The human evolutionary tree gained a new family member on Wednesday when the discovery of a new early human species in Asia was announced in a study published in the journal Nature.

The new species, named Homo luzonensis after the island in the Philippines where it was found, has raised questions not only about how the early humans got to the island, but also about our understanding of our evolution.

What scientists found:

  • Fossil bones and teeth from at least three individuals were found in a cave on the island of Luzon in the Philippines between 2007 – 2015.
  • The bones are between 50,000 to 67,000-years-old.
  • Homo luzonensis had curved toe and finger bones, suggesting that climbing may have been important for them.
  • Researchers said, however, that they likely walked upright and didn't live in trees.
  • The remains suggest that the species was small, standing at less than 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall.
  • Homo luzonensis also likely used stone tools.

Read more: Is man the eternal migrant?: Neanderthal Museum explores history of human movement

The Callao Cave where the fossils were found on Luzon Island in the Philippines (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Callao Cave Archaeology Project)

Callao Cave where the fossils were found on Luzon Island in the Philippines

Evolution 'just got messier'

One of the study's authors, Florent Detroit, said that researchers realized the fossils were "unusual" from the beginning.

"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," Detroit, a paleoanthropologist at France's Musee de l'Homme, told news agency AFP.

Matthew Tocheri, an associate professor of anthropology at Canada's Lakehead University, said that the discovery will ignite "plenty of scientific debate" in the years to come.

"One thing can be said for certain," Tocheri wrote in a review of the study in Nature. "Our picture of hominin evolution in Asia ... just got even messier, more complicated and a whole lot more interesting."

Read more: Is human evolution still continuing?

Questions about evolution

The discovery has left scientists with numerous questions — including how Homo luzonensis got to the island, which would have required a significant sea crossing from the mainland.

Homo luzonensis also challenges some theories of evolution that center on the idea that an early species called Homo erectus began migrating around the world from Africa around 1.4 million to 2 million years ago.

Recent finds, however, have shown that Homo erectus may not have been the only globe-trotting early human to leave Africa. Researchers have yet to determine which of the early humans that Homo luzonensis is descended from.

rs/ng (AP, AFP)

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