#9 A New Human?

Posted on April 14, 2019 by Diana Roberts

The difference between religion and science is that science never stops asking questions and seeking legitimate answers no matter where they lead. Religion fears those answers and tries to subvert them. 

No, science isn’t perfect and at times it can used for evil purposes, but as long as the scientific method is followed, history has proven that we humans have reaped great benefit from scientific research. Remember, of the many, many branches of the human tree, we are the only ones left, so we need to keep learning where we come from and where we are going. 

Picture: AFP  Source:AFP

The great excitement on the evolutionary front, today, April, 2019, is the discovery of a new species of human, which possibly will add yet another branch to the historical human tree. Researchers in the Philippines have announced that they have discovered a species of ancient human previously unknown to science. 

The small-bodied hominin, named Homo Luzonensis, lived on the island of Luzon at least 50,000 to 67,000 years ago. The hominin hosts a patchwork of ancient and more advanced features. This landmark discovery makes Luzon the third Southeast Asian island in the last 15 years to bear signs of unexpected ancient activity.  

For a long time the origin of human species has been mainly focused on Africa with migration up through the Levant of the Mediterranean. This discovery highlights a remarkable diversity of hominins once present in Asia. 

Decades ago, the story of Asia seemed more straightforward, although incomplete. Paleoanthropologists knew that archaic hominins such as Homo erectus ventured over land bridges into parts of what is now Indonesia nearly a million years ago. But farther east, it was thought that these hominins ran into ocean currents considered impassable without boats. The island of Luzon seemed especially difficult for ancient hominins to reach, as it had never been connected to the mainland by land bridges, so that archeologists thought digging into deeper, older layers of soil wouldn’t yield much. 

The discoverer of Homo Luzonensis is Philippine archaeologist Armand Mijares first excavated Callao Cave in 2003, which gave him an unexpected lead. He found 25,000 year-old evidence of human activity but didn’t dig any deeper than about four feet down. 

The following year, researchers unveiled Homo floresiensis, a diminutive hominin, also known as a “hobbit,” that inhabited the Indonesian island of Flores until 50,000 years ago. Inspired, Mijares returned to Callao cave in 2007 to literally dig deeper. 

The team excavated more than five feet of clay below where they had stopped digging in 2003, with no fossils in sight. But then they found a layer of breccia, a type of rock formed from a jumble of other materials. At first, the bones seemed to include only animals such as deer and pigs. Ultimately, the excavation complete recovery, to date, is a foot bone, two toe bones along with seven teeth, two finger bones, and part of a femur. The foot bone is unusually curved – a trait more commonly seen in more ancient cousins o modern human australopithecines 

While evolution sculpted Homo luzonensis into a small form similar to that of Homo floresiensis, the question becomes what was it in each island that drove the differences between the species? We don’t know whether H. luzonensis ancestors interacted and bred with other hominin species that lived in Asia at the time, such as the Denisovans. 

Another major unknown is how the ancestors of H. luzonensis even reached the Philippines. In 2016, researchers unveiled stone tools on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi that date to between 118,000 and 194,000 years old—or at least 60,000 years older than the island’s oldest known modern humans. Taken along side the remains from Flores and Luzon, the sites suggest that ancient hominin dispersal throughout the region wasn’t necessarily as rare – or as accidental – as researchers once thought. 

How did the hominins get those islands without a land path? 

Is the beginning story of humans older and geographically broader than we originally thought? 

Questions, questions, questions!