A new human species called Homo luzonesis has been discovered by a team led by University of the Philippines associate professor Armand Salvador Mijares from fossils excavated in Callao Cave in Peñablanca, Cagayan.
On the southeast Asian island of Luzon, researchers say they have found a completely new species of hominin, a tree-climbing and possibly seafaring creature they call Homo luzonensis.
"The hand and foot bones look so australopith, you could drop them in a box with Australopithecus afarensis bones 3 million to 4 million years old and you couldn't tell them apart", Tocheri said.
With each new discovery, the story of human evolution becomes increasingly complicated.
"We now know that it was a much more complex evolutionary history, with several distinct species contemporaneous with Homo sapiens, interbreeding events, extinctions", said Florent Détroit, the study's main author and an anthropologist with the Natural History Museum in Paris.
Today, only one species of this group remains, Homo sapiens, to which everyone on Earth belongs. Researchers didn't find a whole skeleton intact, but the miniscule teeth they unearthed suggest Homo luzonensis stood at under four feet tall, even shorter than the "Hobbit" species discovered in 2017 on the Indonesian island of Flores, some distance south of Luzon. While the molars of H luzonensis were strikingly small - similar in size to those of modern humans - they shared other characteristics with those of far more primitive hominins, including one known for its massive jaws and teeth.
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The discovery of Homo luzonensis presents new questions about which hominins left Africa first and how hominin species ended up on island isolated by water.
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.
Interestingly, scientists have also argued that Homo floresiensis shows physical features that are reminiscent of those found in australopithecines.
The species, dubbed Homo luzonensis after the island of Luzon where its remains were found, is not a direct ancestor of modern day humans, but rather a distant ancient relative.
Its physical features are a mixture of those found in very ancient human ancestors and in more recent people. 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.
"Arrival by accident ... is favored by many scholars, but this is mainly because of arguments like "Homo erectus were not clever enough to cross the sea on purpose", said Détroit.