Discovery of 67,000 year old remains puts Philippines in global archaeological map

By Prime Sarmiento
0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, August 4, 2010
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Archaeologist Armand Mijares was in a digging site in northern Philippines when he got an e-mail informing him that human toe bone his team found in 2007 was at least 67,000 years old. Mijares and his colleagues were so happy to have received the e-mail that they celebrated that night, drinking cold bottles of beer.

Mijares has every reason to celebrate, as the discovery of a 67, 000 year-old human remains in Callao Cave in the province of Cagayan is perhaps one of the biggest recent discoveries in the field of archaeology.

"This breaks up all standards. This discovery (of the toe bone in Callao cave) put the Philippines in the global scientific map," Mijares declared in an interview with Xinhua.

The discovery that there are human beings in northern Philippines as early as 67,000 years ago challenges existing archaeological theories.

Prior to the discovery of the 67,000 year old remains, the dominant theory states that humans arrived in Southeast Asian region 42,000 years ago. This is evidenced by the discovery of human remains in Niah Cave in Sarawak, Malaysia; and that humans only learned to cross countries using boats 40,000 years ago as evidenced by the remains found in New South Wales in Australia. Archaeologists theorized that the so-called Mungo Man (as the remains were found near Lake Mungo) traveled from Indonesia to Australia by crossing the seas. Aside from human remains, there were no existing physical evidence that maritime technology existed during that time.

In the Philippine context, the discovery of an 18,000 year old skullcap, and is confirmed as Homo sapiens, in Tabon cave in Palawan, southern Philippines in 1962 indicates that humans only arrived in the country less than 20,000 years ago. This is quite " young" compared to Java Man and Peking Man, Homo erectus remains which were over 600,000 years old and were found in Indonesia and China.

But the Callao discovery is supporting Mijares' theory that not only did human migrated from the Indian subcontinent to what is now known as Southeast Asian region as early as 67,000 years ago ( or even as early as 70,000 years ago), but also that they traveled by sea from the southern Philippine province of Palawan to Mindoro island and traveled by foot towards Cagayan. Also, that the Philippines is home to perhaps one of the earliest human species making the country one of the world's major archaeological sites.

Mijares is an associate professor at the Archaeology Studies Program at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), and has done several studies in early human migration in Southeast Asia. He has been excavating in Callao cave for more than a decade, first as a student of archeology in U.P. and later as a graduate student in the Australian National University (ANU).

The Callao cave is one of the Philippines' key archaeological sites as recent excavations yielded stone tools and deer and pig bones dated to about 26,000 years ago. Mijares is interested to find if there were human remains in the area.

Mijares led a multinational team from the University of the Philippines, the National Museum of the Philippines, the Australian National University and the Museum of Natural History in Paris. They discovered a human third metatarsal in Callao cave, at the depth of 275 centimeters below the cave surface. They then submitted it overseas for dating and after receiving a report in May 2009 that it's 67,000 years old, Mijares and his group submitted their paper to the Journal of Human Evolution. The article was published in April 2010 and the findings detailed in the article caused quite a stir in the international scientific circles.

The analysis of the Callao metatarsal revealed that it belongs to the genus Homo and indicates that it has a gracile structure. Although it resembles a small-bodied Homo sapiens, it's not clear if this is indeed a Homo sapiens or another human specie. Mijares said that it can also be compared to Homo floresiensis a species discovered in 2003 by a joint Australian and Indonesian team of archaeologists and biological anthropologists uncovered in Flores islands in Indonesia (hence the name "floresiensis"). The floresiensis, more popularly known as "the hobbit" - is similar to Homo sapiens but their adults were only about a meter tall.

For Mijares, the discovery of the Callao remains is just the beginning. He's keen on finding other remains in Callao cave. To this end, He's now applying for grants to finance another expedition that will help in further understanding early human migration through Southeast Asia and Australia.

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