nzherald: Please welcome a possible new member to our band of upright apes: Homo luzonensis, whose teeth and bones were discovered in an island cave.

The remains represent a new species, scientists concluded in a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature. They named it after Luzon, the island in the Philippines where the remains were found.

Our genus, the Homo in Homo sapiens, contains multitudes, including the thick-browed yet sophisticated Neanderthals and Homo erectus, a nearly 2 million-year-old species that may be our direct ancestor.

Homo luzonensis is the fourth peculiar and extinct human discovered in this century. Homo floresiensis, so small it was nicknamed “the hobbit,” was found in Indonesia in 2004. Mysterious Denisovans, identified as a species based on a finger bone in 2010, lived in Siberia. Homo naledi skeletons, with strange mixes of modern and primitive features, were pulled out of an African cave in 2013.

Together, these newfound species show that human evolution was highly versatile, as groups adapted to unfamiliar conditions around the world. Modern humans were not alone – our close kin survived until fairly recently. And some of our co-inhabitants possibly embarked on long sea voyages, suggesting similar levels of intelligence.

“The evolution of our evolutionary group, Homo, is getting weirder and weirder,” said paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, who directs the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program and was not involved with this research. Like Homo naledi, these fossils show a jumble of old and new traits, Potts said. Their particular combination suggests these humans were “unknown previously to science.”

In 2007, Armand Mijares, an archaeologist at the University of Philippines, asked his colleague Philip Piper to examine animal bones Mijares dug out of Callao Cave in Luzon. The expansive cave yawns open above a river plain. One limestone chamber is so large it houses a Catholic chapel. A deposit of bones in the entrance chamber goes back to the Pleistocene epoch, which lasted from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago.

Piper, a zooarchaeologist at Australia National University, set about cataloguing the animal remains. “On the second day I was working through them,” he said, “I pulled out a human metatarsal.” Piper immediately rang Mijares about the unexpected foot bone, exclaiming, as he recalled, “‘Oh my God, we’ve got human bones in here!'”

Piper, Mijares and their team published a description of the foot bone in 2010. They knew it was the oldest human remain in the Philippines, dated to 67,000 years ago, based on the amount of the radioactive element uranium in the fossil. But the 2010 paper didn’t address who walked on that foot. “We didn’t know what it was at that time, except that it was human,” Piper said.

Mijares returned to Callao Cave and uncovered more remains in 2011 and 2015. All told, the scientists pulled a dozen fossilised parts from the cave – teeth, a thigh bone, finger bones and foot bones, representing three individuals. Attempts to extract DNA from the remains were unsuccessful.

The body parts are diminutive, suggesting Homo luzonensis grew no more than 4 feet tall. Its molars have modern shapes. The way its leg muscle attached to its thigh bone is “distinctively human,” Potts said.

Source: Published by nzherald


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