New species of ancient human discovered in Philippines cave
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De nouvelles espèces d'anciens humains découverts dans une grotte des Philippines.

Des fossiles d'Homo luzonensis découverts dans une grotte de l'île de Luçon, datant de 67000 ans.

Par Hannah Devlin, The Guardian, mercredi 10 avril 2019.

Une nouvelle espèce d'hominidés anciens dont on supposait qu'ils mesuraient moins de 4 pieds et adaptés pour grimper dans les arbres, a été découverte aux Philippines, apportant un virage dans l'histoire de l'évolution humaine.

Le spécimen, appelé Homo luzonensis, a été extrait de la grotte de Callao sur l'île de Luçon au nord des Philippines et a été daté d'il y a 50000 à 67000 ans, quand nos propres ancêtres et les Néandertaliens se sont répandus à travers l'Europe et en Asie.

Florent Détroit, du Muséum d'histoire naturelle de Paris et premier auteur de l'article a déclaré que la découverte constituait la toute dernière prouesse dans le récit dominant d'une histoire linéaire de l'évolution humaine.

On pensait autrefois qu'aucun humain n'avait quitté l'Afrique avant les environs de 1.5 million d'années, quand un hominidé de grande taille nommé Homo Erectus se mit en route pour une dispersion qui l'amena finalement à occuper un territoire couvrant l'Afrique et l'Espagne, la Chine et l'Indonésie.

Alors, selon le récit traditionnel, après quelques centaines de milliers d'années sans grands événements, nos ancêtres se dispersèrent à partir de l'Afrique il y a environ 50 000 ans.

«Nous savons maintenant qu'il s'agit d'une histoire évolutive bien plus complexe, incluant plusieurs espèces distinctes contemporaines d'Homo Sapiens, des métissages, des extinctions», explique Détroit. «Homo Luzonensis est l'une de ces espèces et nous verrons [de plus en plus clairement] qu'il y a quelques milliers d'années, Homo Sapiens n'était sans aucun doute pas seul sur Terre.

La fouille n'a pas produit de squelette complet : sept dents, deux os de la main, trois os du pied et un fémur ont été trouvés, censés appartenir à deux adultes et un enfant. Néanmoins, les fossiles fournissent des indices surprenants sur l'apparence et le mode de vie de Homo Luzonensis.

Les dents minuscueles suggèrent que l'hominidé aurait mesuré moins de 4 pieds, il aurait peut-être même été plus petit qu'une autre espèce ancienne, Homo Floresiensis, parfois appelé le « hobbit », trouvé lui aussi dans le sud-est Asiatique et datant sensiblement de la même période. Le plus étonnant était la présence d'un orteil incurvé, qui rappelait beaucoup l'anatomie d'espèces bien plus anciennes comme les Australopithèques, connus uniquement en Afrique et datés de 2 à 3 millions d'années.

Normallement cette anatomie devrait indiquer un mode de vie partagé, à la fois bipède et arboricole. Il existe la possibilité que des caractéristiques primitives aient réapparu une fois l'espèce isolée sur l'île. « Peut-être leur manière de marcher était-elle différente » a indiqué Détroit. « C'est quelque chose que nous projetons d'étudier dans un proche avenir. » On ne sait pas si les nouvelles espèces, de même que le « hobbit » représentent des mouvements plus anciens que Homo Erectus en provenance d'Afrique ou si ce sont des descendant qui sont devenus plus petits par la suite et ont développé une nouvelle morphologie.

Another mystery is how they arrived at Luzon, a large island that has never been connected to the mainland by a land bridge. One possibility is that the early humans set out to sea intentionally on some form of raft; another is that they were washed there in relatively large numbers due to a natural event such as a tsunami.

“Arrival by accident … is favoured by many scholars, but this is mainly because of arguments like ‘Homo erectus were not clever enough to cross the sea on purpose’,” said Détroit. “But the fact is that we have now more and more evidence that they successfully settled on several islands in the remote past in south-east Asia, so it was probably not so accidental.” Chris Stringer, head of human origins research at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the find, said another crucial question is what caused the demise of these early humans and whether our own ancestors played a role.

“As for the fate of luzonensis, it is too early to say whether the spread of Homo sapiens into the region at least 50,000 years ago might have been a factor in its disappearance,” he said.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/apr/10/new-species-of-ancient-human-homo-luzonensis-discovered-in-philippines-cave?CMP=share_btn_link
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New species of ancient human discovered in Philippines cave.
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Homo luzonensis fossils found in Luzon island cave, dating back up to 67,000 years.
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By Hannah Devlin, The Guardian, Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
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“Maybe the way they were walking was distinct,” said Détroit.
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New species of ancient human discovered in Philippines cave.

Homo luzonensis fossils found in Luzon island cave, dating back up to 67,000 years.

By Hannah Devlin, The Guardian, Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

A new species of ancient human, thought to have been under 4ft tall and adapted to climbing trees, has been discovered in the Philippines, providing a twist in the story of human evolution.

The specimen, named Homo luzonensis, was excavated from Callao cave on Luzon island in the northern Philippines and has been dated to 50,000-67,000 years ago – when our own ancestors and the Neanderthals were spreading across Europe and into Asia.

Florent Détroit, of the Natural History Museum in Paris and the paper’s first author, said the discovery provided the latest challenge to the fairly straightforward prevalent narrative of human evolution.

It was once thought that no humans left Africa until about 1.5 million years ago, when a large-bodied ancient human called Homo erectus set off on a dispersal that ultimately allowed it to occupy territory spanning Africa and Spain, China and Indonesia.

Then, according to the traditional narrative, after a few hundred-thousand years of not much happening, our own ancestors dispersed from Africa about 50,000 years ago.

“We now know that it was a much more complex evolutionary history, with several distinct species contemporaneous with Homo sapiens, interbreeding events, extinctions,” said Détroit. “Homo luzonensis is one of those species and we will [increasingly see] that a few thousand years back in time, Homo sapiens was definitely not alone on Earth.

The excavation did not yield a complete skeleton: seven teeth, two hand bones, three foot bones and one thigh bone were found, thought to belong to two adults and one child. Nevertheless, the fossils provide intriguing clues to the appearance and lifestyle of Homo luzonensis.

The tiny teeth suggest the human would have been shorter than 4ft tall – possibly even shorter than another ancient species, Homo floresiensis, sometimes called the “hobbit”, also found in south-east Asia and dating to about the same period. Most intriguing was the presence of a curved toe bone, which closely resembled the anatomy of far more ancient species such as Australopithecus, known only in Africa and dating to 2m-3m years ago.

Normally this anatomy would indicate a mixed lifestyle with an ability to walk on two legs and climb trees. One possibility is that this primitive trait reappeared once the species had become isolated on the island. “Maybe the way they were walking was distinct,” said Détroit. “This is something we plan to work on in the near future.”

It is not known whether the new species, along with the ‘hobbit’, represent earlier dispersals from Africa than Homo erectus, or whether they are descendants who later shrank and evolved new anatomical traits.

Another mystery is how they arrived at Luzon, a large island that has never been connected to the mainland by a land bridge. One possibility is that the early humans set out to sea intentionally on some form of raft; another is that they were washed there in relatively large numbers due to a natural event such as a tsunami.

“Arrival by accident … is favoured by many scholars, but this is mainly because of arguments like ‘Homo erectus were not clever enough to cross the sea on purpose’,” said Détroit. “But the fact is that we have now more and more evidence that they successfully settled on several islands in the remote past in south-east Asia, so it was probably not so accidental.”

Chris Stringer, head of human origins research at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the find, said another crucial question is what caused the demise of these early humans and whether our own ancestors played a role.

“As for the fate of luzonensis, it is too early to say whether the spread of Homo sapiens into the region at least 50,000 years ago might have been a factor in its disappearance,” he said.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/apr/10/new-species-of-ancient-human-homo-luzonensis-discovered-in-philippines-cave?CMP=share_btn_link