This is the second new human group to be found in southeast Asia in recent years, the first being Flores man (2004):
But Détroit and his colleagues argue that the Callao Cave remains are distinct from those of H. floresiensis and other hominins — including a species called Homo erectus thought to have been the first human relative to leave Africa, some 2 million years ago…
The researchers are cautious about estimating H. luzonensis’ height, because there are only a few remains to go on. But given its small teeth, and the foot bone reported in 2010, Détroit thinks that its body size was within the range of small H. sapiens, such as members of some Indigenous ethnic groups living on Luzon and elsewhere in the Philippines today, sometimes known collectively as the Philippine Negritos. Men from these groups living in Luzon have a recorded mean height of around 151 centimetres and the women about 142 centimetres. Nic Fleming, “Unknown human relative discovered in Philippine cave” at Nature
It’s a good sign when researchers notice that small stature of Homo luzonensis is actually normal for the area today and may not require a unique evolution theory. Or even the claim that the group is a unique species:
Some researchers question whether the evidence is enough to warrant a new species designation. “I think it is a really interesting set of remains, but it’s really at the lower end of the amount of evidence that you would want to base a new species on,” says Bernard Wood, a professor who studies human origins at George Washington University and wasn’t involved in the study.
There could be other explanations for the unique combination of tooth features, he says. The group of individuals that reached Luzon was likely a random assortment of genotypes. With inbreeding over time, genetic drift could have pushed them to develop the unique characteristics that Détroit and his colleagues observed. So there’s a possibility that the remains represent merely an unusual island population of individuals, rather than a new species, Wood explains. Katarina Zimmer, “New Species of Human, Homo luzonensis, Identified in the Philippines” at The Scientist
Let’s face it, they really wouldn’t matter, no matter how intact their skeletons are, if no one can claim they are a “new species.”
Paleoanthropologist John Hawks points out the significance of the find
So, what does this discovery mean? To me, it solidifies the case that ancient human relatives were a lot smarter and more adaptable than we used to give them credit for. …
The evidence for life on these islands goes back a long way. Some hominins were making stone tools on Flores more than a million years ago, and the oldest hominin fossil on that island is around 700,000 years old. Last year, paleoarchaeologist Thomas Ingicco, from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and colleagues reported on work at the site of Kalinga, Luzon. There, they found stone tools and butchered rhinoceros bones, also around 700,000 years old. Very early forms of Homo must have surpassed barriers and found new ways of life in places with very different climates and plant and animal communities than their African ancestors. Meanwhile, within Africa, a diversity of hominin species continued to exist throughout most of the last million years. John Hawks, “New Hominin Shakes the Family Tree—Again” at Sapiens
Yes, the subhumans become rarer with each passing year…
J. R. Miller of the More Than Cake blog writes us to offers some reflections on the vast cloud of hype around the find, pointing out that the Wall Street Journal’s article strips the headline of any meaning title coverage:
“Small-jawed with dainty teeth, able to walk upright but with feet still shaped to climb, these island creatures were a mix-and-match patchwork of primitive and advanced features in a unique variation of the human form, …”
“So far, the scientists haven’t found evidence that these creatures used tools to hunt or to process their food…”
“The scientists also have been unable to isolate DNA from the bones and teeth that could be used to understand how closely they were related to other human species.”
“The scientists also don’t know how these creatures reached the island” Robert Lee Hotz, “Fossil Evidence of New Human Species Found in Philippines” at Wall Street Journal (paywall)
Miller adds, “The article is full of conjecture and just-so stories qualified with “the species most likely,” “may have.” “might have,” etc.. The conclusion? “Recent human evolution, he said ‘just got even messier, more complicated and a whole lot more interesting.’”
“In other words, the bones we found do not match our theory, but trust us, we will come up with an ad hoc answer soon without considering the possibility that we might be wrong about human history.”
You know, J .R., what about the possibility that ad hockery is a formal subject these days in grad school? I mean for those who need to do it like a pro?
See also: Was Neanderthal man fully human? The role racism played in assessing the evidence (J. R. Miller)
Do racial assumptions prevent recognizing Homo erectus as fully human? (J. R. Miller)
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