Homo sapiens have a new (extinct) relative: the remains of a previously unknown human species have been discovered in the Philippines.

Remains of the species were discovered in the Callao Cave, in the north of the island of Luzon.  They have been reported in the journal, Nature, and dated to between 67,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Thirteen remains were discovered, made up of teeth, hand and feet bones, as well as part of a femur.  The physical characteristics of these bones have similarities to recent people but also have features found in some ancient species.

In particular, physical characteristics of these bones suggest that the new species may be genetically linked to the australopithecines – an upright-right, ape-like creature who lived in Africa between two and four million years ago.

The unusual combination has led scientists to consider the remains as a separate species within the human ‘family tree’: Homo Luzonensis, named after the island, Luzon, where they were discovered.

This species suggest that primitive human relatives may have left Africa and made it to South-East Asia.  Interestingly, Luzon has only ever been accessible by sea, and so this raises the question: how could this species or its pre-human ancestors have reached the island? 

Another interesting factor are the several, very different species already known to have been present in the area.  This includes the Homo Floresiensis, a species known as the “Hobbit”, who are believed to have lived on the island of Flores in Indonesia between 190,000 – 50,000 years ago.  Such significant differences highlight how species isolated by islands may develop and evolve in dramatically different ways, despite being geographically close.

Archaeology and Anthropology applicants may consider how this affects our understanding of human history, highlighting the importance of South-East Asia in the development of the homo genus.  Natural Sciences applicants might use this as a starting point to reflect on how geography affects the evolution of a species.

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