How about a Homo cebuensis?

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales April 15,2019 - 07:05 AM


The announcement last week that what archaeologists for nearly a decade have called the ‘Callao Man’ has now been determined to be a separate species called ‘Homo luzonensis’ has put the Philippines once again on the world map as far as research on human origins is concerned. The bones belong to three individuals, one of which has been dated to 63,000 years ago, the other, 50,000.

Composed of a few bones and seven teeth recovered in 2007, 2011 and 2015 that are smaller than those of our own ‘Homo sapiens,’ their discovery did not come easy. A team of Philippine and French archaeologists has been toiling at Callao Cave in Peñablanca, Cagayan Province for well over a decade now. Led by Dr. Armand ‘Mandy’ Mijares of the Archaeological Studies Program of U.P. Diliman, these bones date even older than the Tabon Woman discovered by Robert Fox at Tabon Caves in the early 1960s.

The Callao Archaeological Project in progress. /Inquirer File Photo

All Filipinos should rightfully celebrate this milestone, only the second time in the history of the country’s archaeological history. I know Mandy personally and appreciate deeply his dedication to finding this evidence that has now seen fruition. Congratulations and celebrations are therefore in order.

Read more: Meet ‘Homo luzonensis’

Like most archaeological projects, long-term excavations are not only time consuming and costly but also often frustratingly difficult to do, especially when dealing with a cave site where, as you go down deeper, the logistical requirements of shoring up walls to prevent them from collapsing can be daunting. Thankfully, the find was discovered just three meters from the surface.

‘H. luzonensis’ has been determined to be diminutive or small, like that of Homo floresiensis, another species discovered in 2003 on Flores Island in Indonesia. Debate continues whether this species (and now also that of H. luzonensis), were small due to limited resources in the island setting where they lived.

The question probably in every Cebuano’s mind right now is this: will there be a ‘Homo cebuensis’ also?

Dr. John Peterson, my dissertation adviser and of late an archaeologist based at the University of Guam, attempted to answer this question through a National Geographic grant to study not the caves or mountains of Cebu but the underwater caves off the east coast of Mactan. The assumption was that during the last Ice Age, these caves were above water and may have been occupied. Unfortunately and expectedly, given the difficult nature of underwater excavation, no human remains were recovered.

The bones of a dwarf buffalo officially called ‘Bubalus cebuensis’ which were found by a miner digging down some 60 feet of a cave in Balamban provides a good inspiration for possibly discovering early human remains and perhaps a separate hominin species like that of ‘H. luzonensis.’ I can just imagine the cost of such a long-term excavation after finding the right cave from among the vast network of limestone caves of Cebu. One must also first determine the age of the cave or network of caves. Worse, I am told by some that Bohol may yield more possibilities than that of Cebu.

Nevertheless, Mandy and his team of Filipino and French archaeologists have pointed the way. Who knows what lies just three meters below the surface of a large cave waiting to be discovered somewhere up in the mountains of Argao or Dalaguete or Tuburan?

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