In Brief

New ancient species of tiny humans found in Philippines cave

Discovery of remains of Homo luzonensis may change our understanding of how humans evolved

The discovery of a previously unknown species of ancient human in a cave in the Philippines challenges existing theories about human evolution, scientists say.

The small cache of teeth and bones from what has dubbed Homo luzonensis was excavated from Callao cave, on the northern Luzon island, The Guardian reports.

The remains have been dated to between 50,000 and 67,000 years ago, and the specie’s physical features are a “mixture of those found in very ancient human ancestors and in more recent people”, the BBC says. 

The small size of the bones - from the hands and feet, along with part of a femur - suggests this species was less than 4ft tall, reports The Independent.

Their discovery “undermines a long-held theory on how hominins - the group of ancestral humans of which Homo sapiens is the only member still living – colonised the globe”, the newspaper adds.

Experts previously believed that no human species left Africa until about 1.5 million years ago, when Homo erectus began dispersing to territories including modern-day Spain, China and Indonesia.

However, the shape of the newly discovered hand and foot bones indicates that Homo luzonensis retained the ability to climb trees from older species.

“That could mean primitive human relatives left Africa and made it all the way to Southeast Asia, something not previously thought possible,” says the BBC.

“Until less than 20 years ago, human evolution in Asia was very simple,” said Florent Detroit, from the Musee de l’Homme in Paris and a member of the international team that made the discovery.

“We now know that it was a much more complex evolutionary history, with several distinct species contemporaneous with Homo sapiens, interbreeding events, extinctions,” he continued.

Homo luzonensis is one of those species and we will [increasingly see] that a few thousand years back in time, Homo sapiens was definitely not alone on Earth.”

But, as The Times says, the most intriguing aspect of the find “is simply where it is, on an island far from nearby land”. Luzon has only ever been accessible by sea, so the discovery raises questions about how the pre-modern species might have reached the remote spot.

“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’,” said Detroit.

“But the fact is that we have now more and more evidence that they successfully settled on several islands in the remote past in Southeast Asia, so it was probably not so accidental.”

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