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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Humans in Philippines before 66,000 years ago

Julien Riel-Salvatore
at A Very Remote Period Indeed echoes the latest major discovery on ancient human (sensu lato) presence in Asia.

A metatarsal bone that has been found at Callao Cave in Northern Luzon island and has a minimal age of 66,700 years ago (± 1 Ka), calculated with an uranium-based methodology.

The foot bone compares well, albeit with some minor differences, with those of modern Negritos, believed to be descendants of the first colonization by Homo sapiens in the Middle Paleolithic. However the bone also compares well with other Homo species, such as Homo habilis and, more interestingly, Homo floresiensis, which is known to have lived in the not too distant island of Flores up to 12,000 years ago maybe.

The question on which species it actually belongs to may be solved in the near future as excavations progress in the Filipino cave but one thing is clear: it adds even further evidence in favor of a very early adoption of boating technology by hominins, with potential to cross sea bodies of small size.

Other such evidence is in the presence of Homo floresiensis in the remote island of Flores, never connected to the mainland and requiring in fact the crossing of several straits, the recent discovery of quartz handaxes in Crete dating apparently to as early as 130,000 years ago and the genetic reconstructions that seem to support a coastal route along southern Arabia into South Asia and beyond for the migration of Homo sapiens out of Africa.

Armand Salvador Mijares et al., New evidence for a 67,000-year-old human presence at Callao Cave, Luzon, Philippines. Journal of Human Evolution 2010. Pay per view.


Documentation of early human migrations through Island Southeast Asia and Wallacea en route to Australia has always been problematic due to a lack of well-dated human skeletal remains. The best known modern humans are from Niah Cave in Borneo (40–42 ka), and from Tabon Cave on the island of Palawan, southwest Philippines (47 ± 11 ka). The discovery of Homo floresiensis on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia has also highlighted the possibilities of identifying new hominin species on islands in the region. Here, we report the discovery of a human third metatarsal from Callao Cave in northern Luzon. Direct dating of the specimen using U-series ablation has provided a minimum age estimate of 66.7 ± 1 ka, making it the oldest known human fossil in the Philippines. Its morphological features, as well as size and shape characteristics, indicate that the Callao metatarsal definitely belongs to the genus Homo. Morphometric analysis of the Callao metatarsal indicates that it has a gracile structure, close to that observed in other small-bodied Homo sapiens. Interestingly, the Callao metatarsal also falls within the morphological and size ranges of Homo habilis and H. floresiensis. Identifying whether the metatarsal represents the earliest record of H. sapiens so far recorded anywhere east of Wallace’s Line requires further archaeological research, but its presence on the isolated island of Luzon over 65,000 years ago further demonstrates the abilities of humans to make open ocean crossings in the Late Pleistocene.

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