An unusual human foot find from the Philippines

The news of an unusual hominid foot bone was first announced at the IPPA Congress last year, raising the possibility of a hobbit-like hominids inhabiting the Philippines 67,000 years ago. Now, a paper has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution about the intriguing foot bone, identified as human, but also fitting within the size range of the Homo floresiensis and Homo habilis as well. The location of the find suggests that human seafaring was already existing 60,000-70,000 years ago.

New evidence for a 67,000-year-old human presence at Callao Cave, Luzon, Philippines
Journal of Human Evolution, doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.04.008

Mystery seafaring ancestor found in the Philippines
New Scientist, 03 June 2010

New evidence for a 67,000-year-old human presence at Callao Cave, Luzon, Philippines
Armand Salvador Mijares, Florent Détroit, Philip Piper, Rainer Grün, Peter Bellwood, Maxime Aubert, Guillaume Champion, Nida Cuevas, Alexandra De Leon and Eusebio Dizon

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.

Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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