An international team of scientists, with Spanish participation, has discovered the oldest evidences of human settlement in the Philippines at the archaeological site of Kalinga on the island of Luzon.
This first occupation, dated 709,000 years and prior to the presence of Homo sapiens, is ten times older than previously thought. The find raises new questions about the colonization of these islands: Did these hominids dominate navigation or did they arrive by accident?
Throughout the Quaternary, the Philippines was made up of a group of islands separated from the mainland by deep arms of the sea. The oldest documented human presence in this archipelago to date dates back to 67,000 years ago and it was attributed to Homo aff. sapiens.
However, an international team of prehistorians, led by Thomas Ingicco, researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris (France), in collaboration with the National Museum of the Philippines, has just found evidence of human presence at the Kalinga site, excavated since 2014, about 709,000 years ago.
This antiquity has been obtained by various physicochemical methods (electron spin resonance, imbalances in the argon and uranium families, paleomagnetism). The discovery shows that the first occupation is actually ten times older than previously thought.
Archaeological excavations yielded remains of fauna, including monitor lizard, tortoise, Philippine deer, Stegodon (a cousin of the elephant), and a species of rhinoceros (Rhinoceros philippinensis) that became extinct in this country at least 100,000 years ago.
An almost complete skeleton found in association with dozens of lithic tools carved on anvil has been identified from this last animal. Its carcass shows cut marks on the ribs and limbs, as well as percussion marks on the bones of one of the forelimbs, the result of anthropic activity and show that these animals were eaten by hominids.
Gema Chacón, a specialist researcher in lithic technology at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), has participated in the study of the lithic complex of the site.
How did hominids get to the Philippines?
All these archaeological discoveries constitute evidence of very ancient human presence on the island of Luzon, and change previously established knowledge. Likewise, they raise new questions about the modes of colonization of insular Southeast Asia by hominids.
While herbivores are known to be able to swim long distances, and thus were able to reach the Philippines during periods of low sea level, this hypothesis is not conceivable for humans.
¿A hominid, even before Homo sapiens, could already master some mode of navigation? Or, on the contrary, did this colonization happen accidentally through involuntary trips over spits of land ripped off the coast after a tsunami, a rare but well-documented phenomenon?
The archaeological excavations at the Kalinga site have been funded mainly by the Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires Etrangères, National Geographic, LabEx BCDiv and the Société des Amis du Musée de l’Homme.
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