A tiny, long-lost cousin of our own human species has been discovered, scientists announced Wednesday.
Several foot and hand bones, a partial leg bone and teeth of the long-extinct, previously undiscovered creature were found in Callao Cave in the Philippines.
These fossils “provide sufficient evidence of a new species” that lived on the island of Luzon about 50,000 to 67,000 years ago, according to a new study. That’s roughly the same time that some of our ancestors began to leave Africa. As a shout-out to where it was discovered, the authors named the new species Homo luzonensis.
The creatures may have been only about 3 feet tall, which is roughly the size of the fictional hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.
“We can only speculate but it might be only in the range of a pygmy Homo sapiens,” Mijares told Reuters.
The species is an extinct offshoot of our own species but is not a direct ancestor.
“Most extinct hominin species are not our direct ancestors, but instead are close relatives with evolutionary histories that took a slightly different path from ours,” according to the study.
(“Hominins” is a term for any species of early humans that are more closely related to humans than chimpanzees, including modern humans.)
The species lived in eastern Asia around the same time as our species and other members of the Homo branch, including Neanderthals, their little-understood Siberian cousins the Denisovans, and the diminutive “hobbits” of the island of Flores in Indonesia.
The “remarkable discovery … will no doubt ignite plenty of scientific debate over the coming weeks, months and years,” said anthropologist Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Ontario.
Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, said the Luzon find “shows we still know very little about human evolution, particularly in Asia.”
The discovery was announced in a paper in this week’s Nature, a peer-reviewed British journal.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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