Ancient bones and teeth of a previously unknown early human species have been discovered inside a cave on an island in the Philippines.
The small-bodied hominin was named Homo luzonensis by researchers in honor of the country’s largest island Luzon, which was the site of its discovery, reports National Geographic.
Announced in Nature on Wednesday, the important discovery makes Luzon the third Southeast Asian island within the last 15 years to bear signs of unexpectedly ancient human activity.
View this post on Instagram
“For a long, long time, the Philippine islands [have] been more or less left [out],” said University of the Philippines Diliman archaeologist Armand Mijares, a co-author of the study.
Identified from a total of seven teeth and six small bones, the newfound species reportedly lived on the island during the late Pleistocene epoch, at least 50,000 to 67,000 years ago.
This indicates that H. luzonensis lived at the same time as other human lineages, such as H. sapiens, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and H. floresiensis.
The thirteen remains, which belong to at least three adult and juvenile individuals, were recovered deep in Callao Cave in Northern Luzon in 2007 and on return trips in 2011 and 2015.
The Homo luzonensis possesses a mixture of physical features that are found in both our very ancient ancestors and in more recent human species.
Such qualities suggest that primitive human relatives from Africa made it all the way to Southeast Asia.
It challenges the previously held idea of the neat progression of the human line from less advanced to more advanced species. H. luzonensis is less than 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall, which makes it even smaller than Homo floresiensis, (also known as the Hobbit) whose remains were discovered in Indonesia in 2004.
“These fossil elements show a combination of morphological [structural] features which [are] not seen in other species of the genus Homo, thus indicating a new species, which we named Homo luzonensis,” said National Museum of Natural History in Paris paleoanthropologist Florent Détroit, the study’s lead researcher.
Since the finger and toe bones are curved, the species is believed to have been adept at climbing trees, a skill it shares with some australopithecines.
It also has premolars that have similar characteristics to those in Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus; and small molars that are much like those of modern humans, or Homo sapiens.
As to where exactly H. luzonensis fits into the human family tree is still unknown. It is also a mystery how these ancient humans reached Luzon, which has been an island (with no land bridge) for at least 2.6 million years.
The researchers will be continuing to dig in Callao Cave in hopes of finding more bones, and therefore additional clues, in this fascinating, newly-discovered ancient species.
Featured image via YouTube/nature video