A discovery of ancient fossils suggests that humans may have hobbit-sized ancestors.
Archeologists made the discovery in Callao cave on Luzon island in the northern Philippines, according to a study published in the journal Nature. The new species, named Homo luzonensis, stood no taller than four feet and was adept at climbing trees. The fossils date back 50,000 to 70,000 years ago.
Archeologists uncovered seven teeth, two hand bones, three foot bones, and one thigh bone, which they thought belonged to two adults and one child, The Guardian reported. The size of the teeth, which are small, is what led experts to think members of the species were short in stature. The presence of a curved toe indicates that they climbed trees while also being able to walk on two feet — a trait that dates back only to one other ancient species from 2 to 3 million years ago.
Florent Détroit, co-author of the report, said the discovery challenged the commonly accepted narrative of human evolution that suggests the Homo erectus species did not leave Africa until about 1.5 million years ago. In addition, it has been generally accepted that our human ancestors began moving away from Africa about 50,000 years ago. Détroit said the discovery indicated that the evolution of human history was much more intricate than what we have believed.
“We now know that it was a much more complex evolutionary history, with several distinct species contemporaneous with Homo sapiens, interbreeding events, extinctions,” Détroit said, adding that the new species will eventually prove that Homo sapiens were “definitely not alone on Earth.”
How the species arrived on an island in the Philippines is a mystery. The island is not connected to the mainland, which causes many experts to think they arrived by accident through a natural event, such as a tsunami.
Détroit, of the Natural History Museum in Paris, challenged that notion, pointing out that other evidence suggests that the new species had settled on other nearby islands.
The newly dubbed Homo luzonensis lived at least 50,000 years ago, scientists say. https://t.co/oonX9OSNof
— Science News (@ScienceNews) April 10, 2019
Archaeologist Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany said she did not want to jump the gun about the new species, Science News reported. Until DNA can be extracted from the fossils, there is a chance that they may be a product of interbreeding between earlier Homo species, which would create a hybrid, not a new species.
Another theory is that the Homo erectus species lived on the islands and simply adapted to its surroundings over thousands of years, suggested paleoanthropologist María Martinón-Torres.
However, the combination of “climbing-ready hand and foot bones” are “unique and unknown so far,” Torres said, which could support the notion that the species is new.