Friday, 19 April, 2019

New species of ancient human discovered in Philippines

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Sandra Phillips | 13 April, 2019, 00:35

The cave where the fossils which may belong to a new hominin species were found. Credit: CALLAO CAVE ARCHAEOLOGY PROJECT.

One scientist, Professor Chris Stringer, from the National History Museum, said: "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".

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. 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.

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

It is now unknown how the species went extinct, but as is the case with most extinctions, scholars believe we may have had something to do with it.

"We now know that it was a much more complex evolutionary history, with several distinct species contemporaneous with Homo sapiens, interbreeding events, extinctions", Détroit told the Guardian. Basically, the newly discovered species is a mix of both older and more recent types of human in terms of physical features.

We've learned from looking at their curved toe and finger bones that they likely had to do a lot of climbing.

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Yet another crucial question that researchers are pondering over is what caused the demise of these earliest forms of human species.

They dubbed the creature Homo luzonensis. Previous research has shown that a small, isolated population can experience accelerated evolution, Détroit said. "These discoveries are showing what happened there was just as interesting as what occurred in Africa". However, there are hints Homo erectus was not the only globe-trotting hominin of its time - last year, stone tools were found in China that were 2.1 million years old, "and there are no known Homo erectus fossils that old", Tocheri noted.

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. "DNA preservation in these tropical environments is not good, but it's possible that a scrap of bone you can't even tell as hominin could preserve their DNA perfectly", Tocheri said.

"Arrival by accident ... is favored by many scholars, but this is mainly because of arguments like "Homo erectus were not clever enough to cross the sea on purpose", said Détroit.

"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.

The scientists detailed their findings this week in the journal Nature.

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