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New human species found in Philippines

Category: Environment,Science & Tech

Proximal foot phalanx Image copyright NAture
Image caption The researchers found 13 elements of the new species, including bones and teeth

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

It's known as Homo luzonensis, after the site of its discovery on the country's largest island Luzon.

Its physical features are a mixture of those found in very ancient human ancestors and in more recent people.

That could mean primitive human relatives left Africa and made it all the way to South-East Asia, something not previously thought possible.

The find shows that human evolution in the region may have been a highly complicated affair, with three or more human species in the region at around the time our ancestors arrive.

The new specimens from Callao Cave, in the north of Luzon, are described in the journal Nature.

Homo luzonensis has some physical similarities to recent humans, but in other features hark back to the australopithecines, upright-walking ape-like creatures that lived in Africa between two and four million years ago.

If australopithecine-like species were able to reach South-East Asia, it would change the way our ideas about who in our human family tree left Africa first.

Homo erectus has long thought to have been the first member of our direct line to leave the African homeland - around 1.9 million years ago.

And given that Luzon was only ever accessible by sea, the find raises questions about how pre-human species might have reached the island.

In addition to Homo luzonensis, island South-East Asia also appears to have been home to another human species called the Denisovans, who appear to have interbred with early modern humans arriving in the region.

This evidence comes from analysis of DNA, as no known Denisovan fossils have been found in the region.

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