New tiny hominid found in the Philippines: Homo Luzonensis

New tiny hominid found in the Philippines: Homo Luzonensis

The second tiny ancestor found in the islands of southeast Asia, Homo luzonensis challenges prevailing views of early human dispersal and adaptability.

The human family tree just got a little more luxuriant and a lot more interesting. Scientists say fossils discovered in a cave on the island of Luzon in the Philippines represent a previously unknown branch of humanity, a species they call Homo luzonensis. The remains reveal a tiny variety of human with a number of startlingly primitive traits that lived as recently as 50,000 to 67,000 years ago, overlapping in time with our own species, Homo sapiens, as well as other hominins (members of the human family) including the Neandertals, Denisovans and Homo floresiensis.The find raises important questions about early hominin evolution and biogeography, and highlights just how much of human prehistory remains to be discovered.

The discovery of H. luzonensis has been years in the making. The first hint of it surfaced in 2007 when archaeologists digging in Callao Cave, a popular tourist attraction on Luzon, recovered a single fossil foot bone. The bone was clearly petite, comparable in size to the foot bones of the small-bodied Negrito people who live on Luzon today. Yet its shape was “really weird,” recalls paleoanthropologist Florent Détroit of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Détroit suspected that the fossil specimen came from “something more interesting than a small Homo sapiens,” he says. But with only a single bone to go on, he could not make a compelling case for that interpretation. So when he and his colleagues published their description of the foot bone in 2010, they concluded only that it belonged in the genus Homo. Which species it came from remained uncertain.

Over the next few years the researchers returned to the cave to look for more bones.  They hit pay dirt, recovering 12 additional fossils—assorted teeth as well as hand and foot bones—for a total of 13 specimens representing at least three individuals. Detroit and his collaborators describe the new fossils in a paper published in the April 11 Nature.

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