Microevolution: Experts reveal humans are 'still evolving today'

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The content of Africa has become the richest and most valuable source in understanding where humans come from. In 1974, Lucy, an Australopithecus genus of the early hominins, was discovered in Ethiopia. She soon proved to be one of the earliest known human ancestors — around 3.2 million years old.

Much later, around 300,000 years ago, modern humans — Homo sapiens — are thought to have evolved in East Africa.

Then, roughly around 70,000 years ago, sapiens left their native lands and spread across the world.

By 50,000 years ago, they had reached the southern coast of Asia and Oceania.

However, along the evolutionary chain, there were several other Homo genera, with researchers in 2019 discovering what they believed was a never before seen species of human.

A video created by the science journal, Nature, explored the discovery which was made deep inside an isolated cave in the Philippines.

Over an image of a tiny bone found in the cave, the documentary’s narrator said: “Scientists think this small fragment of bone belongs to a previously unknown species of human.”

The new species was named species Homo luzonensis after the island of Luzon it was found on.

Only a few clues to this species’ existence have been unearthed: some hand and foot bones, a thigh bone and seven teeth.

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While researchers are cautious about estimating luzonensis’ height because of the scarcity of remains, they believe their owners’ bodies were somewhere in the range of small sapiens, similar to members of some Indigenous ethnic groups living on Luzon and elsewhere in the Philippines today.

They may have been around or just under four feet tall.

It was the second species of dwarf human to be found in Southeast Asia.

In 2004, scientists presented the skull of a small-bodied and small-brained species named Homo floresiensis, commonly known as the Hobbit.

Both luzonensis and floresiensis were alive around 50,000 years ago — at the same time as our species, Homo sapiens, our close relatives the Neanderthals and a mysterious type of early human called the Denisovans.

While these groups roamed around Asia, sometimes interbreeding, the ancestors of the luzonensis and the Hobbit may, Nature suggested, have been isolated on islands where the “probably shrank in response to limited resources”.

Scientists believe that luzonensis was even smaller than the Hobbit, and less robust.

The teeth have proved to be yet another puzzle.

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They have an odd medley of ancient and modern features — a “striking” combination of characteristics “not seen in any other human species”.

This is what convinced the team that they had found an entirely new species.

The team, led by Florent Détroit, a palaeoanthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, has suggested that the culmination of their finds presents at least two adults and one child.

Matthew Tocheri, a palaeoanthropologist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada told Nature: “Together, they create a strong argument that this is something new.”

While the teeth proved tricky, the shape of floresiensis foot bones is distinct, most resembling those of Lucy, the Australopithecus, thought never to have left Africa.

Curves in the toe bones and a finger bone of luzonensis suggest that the species might have been adept at climbing trees.

Crucially, researchers now believe that luzonensis fits into the human family tree.

Mr Détroit favours the view that the new species descends from a Homo erectus group whose bodies gradually evolved into forms different from those of their ancestors.

Erectus is believed to be the first human relative to leave Africa some two million years ago.

Gerrit van den Bergh at the University of Wollongong in Australia told Nature: “You get different evolutionary pathways on islands.

“We can imagine erectus arriving on islands like Luzon or Flores, and no longer needs to engage in endurance running but needs to adapt to spend the night in trees.”

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