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New research shows that humans colonized the Philippines 700 thousand years earlier than previously thought

Published: 03 MAY 2018 09:23AM

Words by Naomi Hunter | Staff Writer


A NEW analysis of stone tools and megafauna discovered on the Southeast Asian islands of Flores, Sulawesi, and Luzon has provided evidence that shows the first humans to be introduced to this area was in fact over 700 thousand years earlier than previously thought.

Initialy, the discovery of these stone tools raised the idea that Homo Erectus colonized these islands until the discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003, this led to the skeptical hypothesis that there may well have been an earlier presence of archaic hominin.

Scepticism due to a lack of in situ fossils and/or artifacts - along with a lack of secure numerical darting methods - meant that this remained a theory, until now.

A team lead by T. Ingicco of the Département Homme Environnement Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris, France have published their findings of recent excavations at Kalinga in the Cagayan Valley of northern Luzon in the Philippines. The paper has been made available on

"An early presence in the Philippine archipelago has been hypothesized since the 1950s" - T. Ingicco

That excavation yielded 57 stone tools associated with an almost-complete disarticulated skeleton of Rhinoceros philippinensis, which shows clear signs of butchery, together with other fossil fauna remains attributed to stegodon, Philippine brown deer, freshwater turtle and monitor lizard.

All finds originate from a clay-rich bone bed that was dated to between 777 and 631 thousand years ago using modern electron-spin resonance methods that were applied to tooth enamel and fluvial quartz.

"To directly constrain the age of the rhinoceros skeleton and the cut marks, we applied ESR/uranium-series dating to the enamel of the rhinoceros’s right maxillary third premolar from the unit F bone bed. The tooth yielded an age of 709 ± 68 thousand years"

"This evidence pushes back the proven period of colonization6 of the Philippines by hundreds of thousands of years, and furthermore suggests that early overseas dispersal in Island South East Asia by premodern hominins took place several times during the Early and Middle Pleistocene stages" - T. Ingicco

Previously, the earliest known evidence of hominin activity in this area had been dated to around 67,000 years ago after the discovery of a human metatarsal in Callao Cave in northern Luzon.

"Beyond the chronological gap that is yet to be filled, a question clearly linked to our discovery is the origin of the Callao Cave hominin that has been dated to 66.7 ± 1 ka. This diminutive Callao hominin may represent a direct descendent from a Pleistocene migration stock related to these early Kalinga toolmakers—similar to what happened on Flores Island—or may be derived from a more recent migration wave of anatomically modern human"

Media Resource://doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0072-8

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