Bones from Philippine cave reveal a new human cousin

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Thirteen fossil bones and teeth excavated in a cave in the Philippines represent an enigmatic previously unknown human species, probably small in stature and possessing an unexpected mix of archaic and modern traits, scientists said on Wednesday.

Fossils found inside a cave in the Philippines have linked humanity to a long lost cousin.

A Homo luzonensis toe bone, showing the longitudinal curve.

They included our own species, H sapiens, and Neanderthals, both living in Europe and western Asia, the Denisovans in Siberia, and the diminutive H floresiensis -nicknamed "hobbits" - from Indonesia.

"The evolution of Homo is getting weirder and weirder", Rick Potts, head of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, told NPR. Although some of the characteristics can be compared to Homo erectus and Homo sapiens, the teeth and jaw features remain distinct as far as the odd features they combine.

Toe bone - the proximal phalanx - from Homo luzonensis, a specimen of early human recently found in a Philippines cave.

The researchers also noted that the unearthing makes our understanding of human evolution in Asia "messier, more complicated and whole lot more interesting", according to Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

It was a different story 50,000 years ago, when several varieties of hominin co-existed. Stone tools and butchered remains of a rhinoceros suggested hominin activity on Luzon dating back at least 709,000 years.

Mijares, who led a small team of foreign and local archaeologists behind the rare discovery, said he plans to resume the diggings next year and hopes to find larger fossil bones, artifacts, and possibly stone tools used by people in those times. It might have been the newfound species or an ancestor of it. He speculated that it might have descended from an earlier human relative, Homo erectus, that somehow crossed the sea to Luzon. 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.

We thought it was Homo erectus who left Africa 1.9m years ago, but this suggests otherwise.

D├ętroit said it's not clear how H. luzonensis is related to other species of Homo.

The discovery of two unusual species of early human in the past two decades are making paleontologists wonder about the history of humanity.

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".

The discovery of Homo floresiensis and Homo luzonensis "really exposes how little we know about human evolution in Asia", Tocheri said.

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