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New ancient human species discovered in the Philippines

13 April 2019

Scientists have discovered a long-lost cousin of modern humans by analyzing fossil teeth and bones found in the Philippines.

Five fossil teeth from the same individual have unusual features that helped researchers determine that they might be dealing with a new species of human. Twelve additional hand and foot bones were found during excavations in 2011 and 2015, including a partial femur and teeth, in the same layer of the cave. "Before the discovery of this new species, we [the Philippines] were always in the periphery of human evolution debate". Around that time, east Asia was also occupied by our own species as well as Neanderthals and some other human relatives.

"In our disciplines, you can never expect to find a new species - this is a very rare event", said study lead author Florent Détroit, a paleoanthropologist at France's National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

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One of these species was the diminutive "Hobbit" - Homo floresiensis - which survived on the Indonesian island of Flores until 50,000 years ago. But he said the Philippines discovery gives new credence to an alternate view: Maybe some unknown creature other than H. erectus also slipped out of Africa and into Europe and Asia, and later gave rise to both island species. "There are only four species in Asia and we have one of them", he said.

A new species, Homo luzonensis, has been discovered, which according to experts, is closely related to humans, CNN reported on Thursday. The finger and toe bones are curved, like those of early hominins, likely suggesting that climbing was important to their lifestyle and survival.

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

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They are now the earliest human remains found in the Philippines. "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". Aside from Callao Cave, human fossils have recently been found in another site in Bulacan province just north of the capital, Manila, Mijares said without elaborating.

One theory holds that the peculiar features of luzonensis and its island cousin floresiensis could be the result of their habitat, with the unique and isolated surroundings prompting them to evolve characteristics reminiscent of their ancient forebears.

This evidence comes from analysis of DNA, as no known Denisovan fossils have been found in the region.

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"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. In addition, Homo luzonensis and Homo floresiensis share features with earlier hominins "that were thought to have disappeared from our genus Homo 1.5 million to 2 million years ago", he said.

New ancient human species discovered in the Philippines