Long-lost cousin of modern humans found analyzing bones from Philippines cave

A toe from a member of the species Homo luzonensis recently discovered in the Philippines

A toe from a member of the species Homo luzonensis recently discovered in the Philippines

"These specimens display a combination of primitive and derived morphological features that is different from the combination of features found in other species in the genus Homo (including Homo floresiensis and Homo sapiens) and warrants their attribution to a new species, which we name Homo luzonensis", said the researchers in their paper published this week.

Both small humans probably shrunk in a process called "island dwarfing" which occurs due to limited resources when species are cut off from the mainland.

Fossil bones and teeth found in the Philippines have revealed a long-lost cousin of modern people, which evidently lived around the time our own species was spreading from Africa to occupy the rest of the world.

In particular, the newly discovered luzonensis has a foot bone that is unlike any of its known human contemporaries but closely resembles those of a human species known to have existed in Africa around two to three million years earlier.

And it makes our understanding of human evolution in Asia "messier, more complicated and whole lot more interesting", says Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Homo luzonensis was a contemporary not only of the Hobbit but of our own species, Homo sapiens, which emerged in Africa roughly 300,000 years ago.

The discovery of two odd species of early human in the past two decades are making paleontologists wonder about the history of humanity. It seems as if a decent few - perhaps even more than three - species of human ancestor might have lived in the area at the time that our direct descendants arrived.

It apparently used stone tools and its small teeth suggest it might have been rather small-bodied, said one of the study authors, Florent Detroit of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

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There's no sign that H. luzonensis encountered any other member of the Homo group, Detroit said in an email.

In addition, stone tools dating to around 200,000 years ago have been found on the island of Sulawesi, meaning that ancient hominins potentially inhabited numerous large islands of Southeast Asia.

"It's a mixture that we haven't seen in other species", said Detroit.

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.

The discovery of Homo luzonensis "provides yet more evidence that hints that H. erectus might not have been the only globe-trotting early hominin", wrote Tocheri.

An worldwide team of researchers have uncovered the remains of a new species of human in the Philippines, proving the region played a key role in hominin evolutionary history.

The sole representative of the first wave was thought to have been Homo erectus, which spread across the globe more than 1.5 million years ago.

More such discoveries will probably emerge with further work in the region, which is under-studied, he said in an email.

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