The new species, Homo luzonensis, was discovered in a cave on the Filipino island of Luzon

By Rachel DeSantis
April 11, 2019 04:41 PM
Dr. Armand Mijares

Researchers in the Philippines have discovered a new species of ancient human they’ve named Homo luzonensis — and it all started with a foot bone.

The scientists announced their discovery Wednesday in the journal Nature, noting that the newly found species likely lived somewhere between 50,000 and 67,000 years ago, according to NPR.

The discovery is more than 10 years in the making, as researchers first found a foot bone in 2007 in the Callao Cave in the Philippines on the island of Luzon.

Though they knew it dated back tens of thousands of years and belonged to the genus Homo, it was unclear to which species specifically, as it looked different from modern human bones.

According to National Geographic, archaeologist and study co-author Armand Mijares, of the University of the Philippines, and his colleagues presented the foot bone in 2010 and suggested it belonged to Homo sapiens.

But after additional trips to the same location yielded 12 more fossils, they determined it was something else entirely.

Dr. Armand Mijares

The researchers took two subsequent excavation trips, in 2011 and 2015, which uncovered two additional toe bones, seven teeth, two finger bones and part of a femur they believe came from at least three individuals, according to National Geographic.

The “primitive and derived morphological features” differ from those of Homo floresiensis and Homo sapiens, leading the researchers to put them in a species all their own called the Homo luzonensis, named after the island on which they were discovered, the authors wrote in Nature.

Paleoanthropologist Shara Bailey told NPR that the different features were “exciting” because they exhibited both modern and primitive traits. Said traits include a toe bone that curved more than a modern toe bone, but teeth that appear very similar to modern teeth.

Scientists wrote in the journal that the new discovery “underscores the importance of island Southeast Asia in the evolution of the genus Homo.”

“For a long, long time, the Philippine islands [have] been more or less left [out],” Mijares told National Geographic. “But H. luzonensis flips the script, and it continues to challenge the outdated idea that the human line neatly progressed from less advanced to more advanced species.”

NPR reports that “scientists suspect that these early humans probably stood less than 4 feet tall and had several apelike features.”