Archaeologists want better protection for cave where new human species found

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Scientists have discovered a long-lost cousin of modern humans by analyzing fossil teeth and bones found in the Philippines.

This distant ancestor of ours is being known as Homo luzonensis because it was found on the Filipino island of Luzon.

Based on teeth and bones found there, scientists suspect these early humans probably stood less than four feet tall and had several ape-like features, NPR reported.

They included our own species, H sapiens, and Neanderthals, both living in Europe and western Asia, the Denisovans in Siberia, and the diminutive H floresiensis -nicknamed "hobbits" - from Indonesia.

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.

The already entangled branches of human evolution have a new development.

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. The ancient humans may have been brought there by a natural disaster such a as tsunami, but it's possible they set out to sea intentionally using some form of a raft.

The result is that our understanding of evolution in Asia is "messier, more complicated and a whole lot more interesting", said expert Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

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It was a different story 50,000 years ago, when several varieties of hominin co-existed.

Homo luzonensis apparently used stone tools and its small teeth suggest it might have been rather small-bodied, said one of the study authors, Florent Détroit of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

But some human relative was on Luzon more than 700,000 years ago, as indicated by the presence of stone tools and a butchered rhino dating to that time, he said. It might have been the newfound species or an ancestor of it. That means human relatives may have struck out from the big continent far earlier than was previously understood.

There's a new addition to the family tree: an extinct species of human that's been found in the Philippines.

Prof Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, commented: "After the remarkable finds of the diminutive Homo floresiensis were published in 2004, I said that the experiment in human evolution conducted on Flores could have been repeated on numerous other islands in the region". Twelve additional hand and foot bones were found during excavations in 2011 and 2015, including a partial femur and teeth, in the same layer of the cave. And maybe another as-yet unknown creature (other than H. erectus) slipped out of Africa to later give rise to the newly discovered species.

The discovery of Homo floresiensis and Homo luzonensis "really exposes how little we know about human evolution in Asia", Tocheri said.

We thought it was Homo erectus who left Africa 1.9m years ago, but this suggests otherwise.

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