Our growing family tree: New human ancestor discovered in Philippines cave

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The researchers reported that at least three individuals were found in Callao Cave, displaying a combination of primitive and derived morphological features different from the combination of features found in other species, including Homo floresiensis and Homo sapiens. One toe bone, for example, is more curved than modern human toe bones, and is similar to the toe of a tree-climbing, ape-like creature, Australopithecus, that lived millions of years ago.

Professor Armand Mijares illustrates the similarities of the bones from the foot of the Homo Luzonensis during a press briefing at the University of the Philippines Science Auditorium on Thursday. The report claims the finding to be the "earliest direct evidence of a human presence in the Philippines".

"This puts the Philippines, our scientific community in the spotlight", Mijares said.

Scientists described the new species this week in the journal Nature. A new species of ancient human has been discovered in a cave in the Philippines. From left are two premolars and 3 molars.

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.

Testing revealed that the specimens lived at least 50,000 to 67,000 years ago, during the Late Pleistocene epoch, when the world swung between ice ages and warmer times.

Another archaeologist, Eusebio Dizon, says the remains are the oldest to be found in the Philippines, predating those discovered in Tabon Cave by thousands of years.

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While the archaeological find could attract more scientists, Dizon anxious that it could also draw vandals and treasure hunters who could threaten the seven-chamber cave complex, which is a popular tourism destination.

"Penablanca has been a treasure hunting haven of many people", Dizon said, referring to the Cagayan provincial town where the Callao caves are located.

The main exodus of our own species from Africa that all of today's non-African people are descended from took place around 60,000 years ago.

One of the toe bones and the overall pattern of tooth shapes and sizes differ from what's been seen before, but scientists don't know exactly how the creature is related to us or our other close evolutionary kin. 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.

A handout image made available by Florent Detroit and taken on August 9, 2011 shows a view of the excavation in the Callao Cave in the north of Luzon Island, in the Philippines, where an worldwide multidisciplinary team discovered a new hominin species, Homo Luzonensis.

Filipino archeologists searching Callao Cave for fossil bones and teeth found in the northern Philippines.

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