More worldview-changing discoveries at the Philippines’ Callao Cave

The homo luzonensis isn’t the first big discovery at one of the Philippines’ first protected national parks

Archeologists announced a landmark discovery on science journal Nature this week. The group has unearthed the bones of a new human ancestor species dubbed Homo luzonensis inside Cagayan Valley’s Callao Cave in the Philippines.

According to the study led by award-winning Filipino archeologist Armand Mijares, the previously unknown small-bodied hominin (estimated to be less than 4 feet tall!) lived on the island of Luzon at least 50,000 to 67,000 years ago. This makes Luzon the third Southeast Asian island in the last 15 years to bear signs of unexpectedly ancient human activity.

Identified from a total of seven teeth and six small bones, Homo luzonensis complicates the evolutionary tree and challenges the idea that the human line neatly progressed from less advanced to more advanced species.

Despite the recent announcement, the set of fossils used in the study to confirm the Homo luzonensis species were actually found in 2011 and 2015. Here are the finds that led to the ground-breaking discovery:

  • 1947. Fossils of large extinct mammals, like the rhinoceros, are found in open-air sites of Cagayan Valley.
  • 1960. Stone tools are found on these sites’ surface—the beginning of the theory that Homo erectus roamed Luzon Island.
  • 1976. Excavations moved from open-air sites to Callao Cave, pursued a team from the National Museum of the Philippines. Mijares began his investigations much later, in 1999.
  • 2003. Within 1.3 meters of excavation, Mijares’ team found evidence of Palaeolithic and Neolithic human activity in the form of fragments of flake tools and ceramics, traces of hearths and faunal remains.
  • 2007. Mijares’ team made their first fossil discovery in the Callao Cave with a foot bone. Back then, “The Callao Man” was thought to belong to an ancient Homo sapien species. At least 67,000 years old, the bone turned out to be from a different kind of human species — thanks to the continuation of Mijares’ work, the Callao Man has been reassigned as a Homo luzonensis.

See for yourself: Callao Cave National Park

Although your average visitor can’t come along for the excavations (sorry — no casual Indiana-Jonesing here), there are treks that can easily satisfy any cravings for adventure. The seven-chamber limestone cave is also one of the Philippines’ first national parks, officially proclaimed in 1935. It was named after the rufous hornbill, locally known as kalaw, a bird species endemic to the the country. Callao Cave is the largest, but only one of the many caves at the municipality of Peñablanca, so there’s plenty more to see.

Cebu Pacific flies daily from Manila and Cebu to Tuguegarao City, where the caves are a tricycle or jeepney ride away.

Written by

Nina Unlay

Photographed by

Jilson Tiu

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