Researchers say they have found fossil bones and teeth of a previously unknown human species in the northern Philippines.
Scientists named the species Homo luzonensis after the island of Luzon, where the discovery was made. Researchers recently reported the finding in a study published in Nature.
A team from the Philippines, France and Australia found the first fossil bones in 2007 in Callao Cave, in Cagayan province.
Filipino archeologist Armand Salvador Mijares led the unearthing effort. He showed off the discovery at a news conference at the University of the Philippines, outside Manila.
There were six pieces of bone - from the feet, hands and leg – belonging to at least three individuals. Seven teeth were also found.
Another Filipino archaeologist, Eusebio Dizon, said the human remains were the oldest ever found in the Philippines.
The species is not believed to be a direct ancestor of modern-day humans, but rather a distant ancient relative. Researchers said tests showed that two of the fossil pieces were between 50,000 and 67,000 years old.
An examination of the bones led the researchers to decide they belonged to a previously unknown member of the Homo sapiens species. They reported that one of the toe bones and the shapes of the teeth differed from what has been seen in Homo sapiens before.
The scientists said the fossils suggest the bodies of the species were likely smaller than modern-day humans.
Florent Détroit is with France’s National Museum of Natural History in Paris. He co-led the study. He told the French press agency AFP, "From the beginning, we realized the unusual characteristics of these fossils.”
After much examination, Détroit said, the scientific team was able to confirm "that this was something special, unlike any previously described species…”
Matthew Tocheri is with Lakehead University’s Department of Anthropology in Thunder Bay, Canada. He was not part of the study. He told Nature that the bones and teeth “create a strong argument that this is something new.”
The discovery marked the second time in the 21st century that a new human species has been identified in Southeast Asia. In 2004, fossils of another group, called Homo floresiensis were found on the Indonesian island of Flores. That species –sometimes described as “hobbits” – was found about 3,000 kilometers from the Luzon discovery.
Détroit said it is not yet clear how Homo luzonensis is related to other species within the Homo family. He said it may have descended from an earlier human relative, Homo erectus. Homo erectus is generally considered the first Homo species to have expanded outside Africa.
Some scientists have suggested the “hobbits” found in Indonesia may have evolved from Homo erectus.
Tocheri told the Associated Press he thinks that is possible. But he also said the Philippines discovery may provide evidence of another theory. It is possible, he said, that some unknown creature other than Homo erectus also moved out of Africa and reached Europe and Asia, and that both created new island species.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse and the journal Nature. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
fossil – n. part of an animal or plant from thousands of years ago, preserved in rock
previously – adv. before the present time
province – n. division of a country that has its own government
characteristic – n. quality that makes something different from other things
descend – v. develop from an ancestral heritage
evolve – v.develop from other forms of life over many of years