Filipino archeologist Armand Salvador Mijares shows a femur bone, one of those they recovered from Callao Cave belonging to a new specie they called Homo luzonensis, during a press conference in metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Thursday, April 11, 2019.
So far archaeologists have found fossil hand and foot bones, a thigh bone and seven. They contain a mixture of old and new features that have excited scientists and threaten to overturn accepted theories of human evolution.
"If you take each feature one by one, you will also find it in one or several hominin species, but if you take the whole combination of features, no other species of the genus Homo is similar, thus indicating that they belong to a new species", said Florent Détroit, study author and paleoanthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.
It is still not known whether the new species represent earlier dispersals from Africa than Homo erectus, or whether they are descendants who later shrank and evolved new anatomical traits.
"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.
Prof Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, commented: "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".
Homo luzonensis lived in eastern Asia at around the same time as not only our species but other members of the Homo branch, including Neanderthals, their little-understood Siberian cousins the Denisovans, and the diminutive "hobbits" of the island of Flores in Indonesia. Bones of deer and related animals were found in the area, some with cut marks, suggesting they were butchered although there were no stone tools or sharp implements found in the immediate area where the human fossils were dug up, Mijares said.
But luzonensis are different from other species due to their distinct premolar teeth which vary considerably from anything identified in the other species belonging to the Homo genus.
The finger and toe bones are curved, suggesting they were good for climbing.
Interestingly, scientists have also argued that Homo floresiensis shows physical features that are reminiscent of those found in australopithecines.
It is also a mystery as to how the species reached Luzon island since it has never been connected to the mainland with a land bridge. Previous research has shown that a small, isolated population can experience accelerated evolution, Détroit said. 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. The most obvious candidate is Homo erectus, fossils of which were discovered in the 1890s on the Indonesian island of Java.
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.
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