Mysterious Human Past

Archaeology serves as a gateway to finding the past. It helps us travel back into time to gain interesting information about the humans and their settlements that existed thousands and thousands of years ago. It also throws light on the cultural history of different countries and answers several questions about the lifestyles of humans who lived there.

Recently, archaeologists discovered dozens of stone tools and several butchered bones of rhino on the Philippines’ largest island called Luzon. The discovery pushes back the earliest evidence of human activity and life in the Philippines by over 600,000 years. It also left archaeologists wondering who these ancient humans were and how they crossed the open seas that surrounded that island and others in Southeast Asia.

The age of the material remains makes them remarkable. The 57 stone tools unearthed by scientists are estimated to be about 631,000 to 777,000 years old, according to a study published by Thomas Ingicco, lead archaeologist of France’s National Museum of Natural History. While the researchers have no idea about which archaic cousin of humans butchered the rhino, the discovery is expected to cause a stir among people studying human story in the South Pacific.

To seek similar sites, Ingicco and John de Vos, Dutch biologist went to Kalinga, a place in northern Luzon which is known for yielding ancient bones. Researchers had found animal bones and stone tools there since the 1950s, but those bits of remains couldn’t be dated. To prove that ancient hominins had lived at Kalinga, de Vos and Ingicco needed to search for buried artifacts. In 2014, the team excavated a pit at Kalinga about seven feet to a side. They began finding bones belonging to a long-extinct rhinoceros. They then uncovered an entire skeleton as well as stone tools left behind by its butchers. The researchers measured the sediments and the rhino’s teeth to analyze the amount of radiation the animal had absorbed over time. The natural uranium content of one of the rhino’s teeth was also measured. The team also found remains of Philippine brown deer, freshwater turtles, and monitor lizards during the excavation.

While it is unclear as to how humans made their way to the Philippines, Ingicco hypothesized that the ancient humans were washed out off a coast following some natural disaster such as tsunami or some similar event.

As many habitable islands across the South Pacific have been hemmed off by swaths of open ocean, it was believed that humans’ ancient cousins couldn’t have made it to them without knowing the art of sailing. However, in 2004, researchers discovered Homo floresiensis, which thrived on the deserted island of Flores for hundreds of thousands of years in the past. In 2016, scientists unveiled stone tools on Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia. According to National Geographic, the Sulawesi tools date about 118,000 years ago or about 60,000 years before the first anatomically modern humans arrived. “It’s really, really exciting – it’s now becoming increasingly clear that ancient forms of hominins were able to make significant deep-sea crossings,” says Adam Brumm, a paleoanthropologist at Griffith University, who studies H. floresiensis.

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