Friday January 24, 2020

Fossil Bones, Teeth Found in Philippines Reveal Long-Lost Cousin of Humans

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

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fossil, teeth, bones
Right upper teeth of an individual of the newly identified species Homo luzonensis, found in Callao Cave on Luzon Island, the Philippines, are seen in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters April 10, 2019. VOA

Fossil bones and teeth found in the Philippines have revealed a long-lost cousin of modern people, which evidently lived around the time our own species was spreading from Africa to occupy the rest of the world.

It’s yet another reminder that, although Homo sapiens is now the only surviving member of our branch of the evolutionary tree, we’ve had company for most of our existence.

And it makes our understanding of human evolution in Asia “messier, more complicated and whole lot more interesting,” says one expert, Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

fossil bones, teeth
The discovery of a new human relative on Luzon might be “smoke from a much, much bigger fire,” he said. VOA

In a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature, scientists describe a cache of seven teeth and six bones from the feet, hands and thigh of at least three individuals. They were recovered from Callao Cave on the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines in 2007, 2011 and 2015. Tests on two samples show minimum ages of 50,000 years and 67,000 years.

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.

Analysis of the bones from Luzon led the study authors to conclude they belonged to a previously unknown member of our “Homo” branch of the family tree. One of the toe bones and the overall pattern of tooth shapes and sizes differ from what’s been seen before in the Homo family, the researchers said.

They dubbed the creature Homo luzonensis.

It apparently used stone tools and its small teeth suggest it might have been rather small-bodied, said one of the study authors, Florent Detroit of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

fossil bones, teeth
More such discoveries will probably emerge with further work in the region, which is under-studied, he said in an email. Wikimedia

H. luzonensis lived in eastern Asia at around the same time as not only our species but 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.

There’s no sign that H. luzonensis encountered any other member of the Homo group, Detroit said in an email. Our species isn’t known to have reached the Philippines until thousands of years after the age of the bones, he said.

But some human relative was on Luzon more than 700,000 years ago, as indicated by the presence of stone tools and a butchered rhino dating to that time, he said. It might have been the newfound species or an ancestor of it, he said in an email.

Detroit said it’s not clear how H. luzonensis is related to other species of Homo. He speculated that it might have descended from an earlier human relative, Homo erectus, that somehow crossed the sea to Luzon.

H. erectus is generally considered the first Homo species to have expanded beyond Africa, and it plays a prominent role in the conventional wisdom about evolution outside that continent. Some scientists have suggested that the hobbits on the Indonesian island are descended from H. erectus.

Tocheri, who did not participate it the new report, agreed that both H. luzonensis and the hobbits may have descended from H. erectus. But he said the Philippines discovery gives new credence to an alternate view: Maybe some unknown creature other than H. erectus also slipped out of Africa and into Europe and Asia, and later gave rise to both island species.

fossil teeth, bones
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. Wikimedia

After all, he said in an interview, remains of the hobbits and H. luzonensis show a mix of primitive and more modern traits that differ from what’s seen in H. erectus. They look more like what one what might find in Africa 1.5 to 2.5 million years ago, and which might have been carried out of that continent by the mystery species, he said.

The discovery of a new human relative on Luzon might be “smoke from a much, much bigger fire,” he said.

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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.”

More such discoveries will probably emerge with further work in the region, which is under-studied, he said in an email. (VOA)

Next Story

New Requirement by U.S. Citizens to Get Visas for Travelling to Philippines Could Hurt Tourism

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Philippines Tourism
A requirement that U.S. citizens get visas for travel in the Philippines would hobble the Southeast Asian country's tourism industry. Pixabay

By Ralph Jennings

A requirement that U.S. citizens get visas for travel in the Philippines would hobble the Southeast Asian country’s tourism industry to ease a pair of high-level political spats, analysts say.

U.S. citizens can enter the beach-studded archipelago now on a visa-free landing stamp, saving time and any application fees before travel.

“If we look at the situation of the Philippines in relation with the U.S., of course the Philippines will lose more with that kind of option (a visa rule) than Americans,” said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman “Americans will have other options.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said last month via his office’s website that Americans would be required to apply for tourist visas if the United States bars entry by officials from Manila who are linked to the imprisonment of Leila de Lima, a Philippine senator who’s at odds with Duterte.

The visa requirement would dim resentment among Filipinos who believe today’s rules are unfair. Filipinos need $160 visas for the United States but do not always qualify.

Tourism impact

The tit-for-tat would bite into a tourism industry that generated $4.78 billion in the first half of 2019, analysts say, because the United States is the third largest source of arrivals after South Korea and China.

Philippines Elections
An armed police escort of opposition Senator Leila de Lima disembarks from their vehicle as she arrives to vote in the country’s midterm elections Monday, May 13, 2019 in suburban Paranaque, southeast of Manila, Philippines. VOA

Americans asked to spend time and money on a visa could go instead to half a dozen other Southeast Asian countries either visa free or with with a visa payable upon landing.

International tourist arrivals to the Philippines rose by 7.7% to 7.1 million visitors in 2018 over 2017, Philippine Department of Trade and Industry figures show. Of those visitors, 1,587,959 came from South Korea, 1,255,258 from China and 1,034,396 from the United States.

Americans often travel to the Philippines for beach holidays and tours of old Spanish architecture.

Filipino-Americans who still hold Philippine passports could still get back into their old homeland without visas. “It will probably be the tourists (who are affected), American tourists who are not from here,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Metro Manila-based advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

Senator vs. Duterte

A visa requirement would answer the Philippine government’s opposition to a U.S. budget proposal to ban entry to the United States by certain officials linked to the De Lima case.

De Lima, a harsh critic of Duterte, was charged in 2017 with orchestrating a drug-trafficking ring while justice secretary before 2015. Some believe her arrest was politically motivated.

Philippines Boracay
Visitors gather along the beach during sunset in Boracay island, Philippines. VOA

The 2020 U.S. budget contains a provision authorizing the Secretary of State to ban Philippine officials from entry if the U.S. side finds “credible information” that they “have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.”

“We have explained repeatedly that the subject provision is ineffective given that the Filipino Senator is not wrongfully detained,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said via his office’s website. If the U.S. goes ahead, he said, “This government will require all Americans intending to come to the Philippines to apply and secure a visa before they can enter Philippine territory.”

The U.S. Embassy in Manila did not answer a request last week for comment.

Reciprocity issue

A visa rule for Americans might also set a stage for negotiations on visa rules from both sides, Casiple said. Filipinos must apply for visas to enter the United States and not everyone gets approval.

“I think it will be within the context of renegotiation, not a policy immediately,” he said. “Particularly, it will raise the question of reciprocity.”

Filipinos have historically seen the wealthier United States as a place to find high-paid work and remit money to family back home. Tourist visa applicants pay a $160 fee and must pass a consular interview to be approved. U.S. Department of Homeland Security data show that 5,276 Filipinos overstayed non-immigrant “pleasure” visas in 2018.

Duterte might not act on his threat, some caution.

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“I don’t take Duterte’s visa threats too seriously, as he has a history of just spouting off,” said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies political consultancy in New York. “Our countries’ relationship will long outlast Duterte’s reign. We can’t overreact to every little thing he does.”

If the United States hits back, King said, it should avoid hurting an overall U.S.-friendly Filipino public and instead “personally needle Duterte.” (VOA)