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67,000-year-old human fossil found in Cagayan

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MANILA, Philippines – A team of archaeologists has confirmed that a foot bone they discovered in Callao Cave in Cagayan province is at least 67,000 years old, older than the so-called Tabon Man of Palawan, which has long been thought to be the archipelago’s earliest human remains at 50,000 years old, a report on GMANews.TV said yesterday.

“So far this could be the earliest human fossil found in the Asia-Pacific region. The presence of humans in Luzon shows these early humans already possessed knowledge of seacraft-making in this early period,” Dr. Armand Mijares, of the University of the Philippines-Diliman who led the team of archeologists, told GMANews.TV in an exclusive interview conducted by e-mail in between archaeological digs.

The report said Mijares was shocked and elated at the discovery, and admitted it was something people in his field dream of.

“I am a Pleistocene archaeologist and our efforts are meant to unravel the deep past," Mijares said.

The findings of their team were recently published in the scholarly journal Human Evolution.

The actual discovery of the bone occurred in 2007 but it was not clear then just how old the fossil was.

Mijares said they were able to approximate the fossil’s age through a method called “uranium-series dating."

The primary theory is that Callao Man, or his ancestors, reached Luzon from what is now Indonesia by raft at a time when experts did not think human beings were capable of traveling long distances by sea.

Some signs found by the scientists also indicated that Callao Man might not have been fully human, but only a species akin to modern man.

Dr. Victor Paz, a UP colleague of Mijares who was not part of the excavation, told GMANEWS.TV that the bone could be evidence of human “speciation" or the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise, taking place in Luzon.

“If speciation did take place in the region and more evidence comes out of older modern human remains, it may seriously challenge current conventions on the spread of modern humans to our region," Paz said.

Similar to Aytas

Based on the single bone, it is not clear that Callao Man was male. But they do know that its physical size was similar to the modern Negrito, or Aytas of Luzon. The bone was the third metatarsal of the foot, thus is referred to scientifically as Callao MT3.

The human bone was found in the town of Peñablanca, Cagayan in an excavation site where Mijares had started digging four years before.

“We were initially frustrated that during the excavation we were only finding animal remains. But when my colleague Dr. Phil Piper, our team’s zoo-archaeologist, was looking at the finds, he said to me, 'Mandy, this is a human bone,'" Mijares said. “When we verified that it is a human bone, I knew that we discovered something very important."

The presence of the remains of butchered animals in the same layer of sediment, but no stone tools, has raised interesting questions about how Callao Man killed them.

“We can only speculate that they were using different tools. From our initial analysis of the cut marks on the animal bones, they could have used organic tools such as bamboo which is ubiquitous in the region," Mijares told GMANEWS.TV.

Mijares said he and his team intend to continue digging, as there could be more bones waiting to be discovered.

Additional discoveries of remains of Callao Man could be enough evidence to show with more certainty that he was of an earlier species than homo sapiens, which could mean that the first modern humans in the archipelago did not sail here but evolved here, the report further said.

AYTAS OF LUZON

BONE

CALLAO

CALLAO CAVE

CALLAO MAN

DR. ARMAND MIJARES

HUMAN

LUZON

MIJARES

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