After years of digging, UP-led team unveils ‘Homo Luzonensis’

By Joel Pinaroc

A team of archaeologists and researchers have unveiled “Homo Luzonensis,” a new species of ancient humans living in the Philippines thousands of years ago.

Dr. Armand Salvador B. Mijares discussing the Homo Luzonensis during a press briefing at the College of Science in UP Diliman

Dr. Armand Salvador B. Mijares, University of the Philippines associate professor, led the international and multidisciplinary team which discovered the ancient “cousin” of modern humans, from an excavation site inside Callao Cave in Penablanca, Cagayan.

Mijares said the hominid fossils and teeth belonged to at least three individuals, who the team nicknamed “Ulag,” after a mythical cave man.

The unveiling of Homo Luzonensis, was actually the culmination of several years of digging in Callao Cave. In fact, Mijares in 2007 already noted a new hominid species, which was called “Callao Man” based on a metatarsal (foot bone) excavated at Callao Cave.

Mijares said the recent discovery of the teeth and bones, which he referred to as “diagnostic traits” were sufficient to declare the new species. Thus, “Callao Man” has been reclassified as Homo Luzonensis.

Mijares said the “minimum” age of Homo Luzonensis is 50,000 years. “But this is only the minimum,” Mijares said. The teeth and fossil bones were dated using Uraniam series analysis and were found to be between “50,000 to 67,000 years.”

Mijares said Homo Luzonensis is the oldest hominid found in the Philippines. Although more clues are needed to paint a picture of what “Ulag” might look like, Mijares described the hominid as bipedal and “small-bodied” and probably a nimble “climber.”

The fossil teeth, Mijares said, were worn, but more research is needed to determine what type of food “Ulag” ate.

Asked on the possible height of the hominid species, Mijares said there is a possibility that the species could be as tall as the “negritos” of the Philippines. The Philippines “negrito” is often referred to as the ‘Aeta.”

Interestingly, Mijares noted that the ancient humans did not actually dwell or lived inside Callao Cave. The remains of Homo Luzonensis, he said, where probably washed ashore before resting inside the cave.

Mijares added that the discovery makes Southeast Asia an important “evolutionary region” although questions, such as the lineage of Homo Luzonensis, and how and when it reached Luzon, remain.

He said the identification of the new hominid species, could spark a “lively debate.” Mijares noted that the discovery of Homo Luzonensis indicated that human evolution is “nonlinear.”

“We need more research to answer the question of how Homo Luzonensis is related to the other hominid species,” Mijares said.

The fossils excavated at Calla Cave in Penablanca, Cagayan

News of the discovery of Homo Luzonensis made a major impact in the world of archaeology as it is said to be only the fourth hominid species discovered in the last century.

Jeremy Burns, director of the National Museum of the Philippines, said the discovery is a “game changer” and now makes the Philippines an important site for archaeological studies.

National Geographic, in a report, quoted a scientist predicting that “the species is one of the most important finds that will be out in the coming years.

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