Callao man could be ‘oldest’ human in Asia Pacific, says Filipino archaeologist

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By Anna Valmero

(Watch loQal’s interview with archaeologist Armand Salvador here)

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA—The discovery of the Callao man changes not only the history of the Philippines but alters altogether the oldest records of early human remains, according to a Filipino archaeologist.

The remains were discovered in Cagayan Valley’s Peñablanca cave in 2007 by Armand Salvador Mijares, deputy director and program secretary of the Archaeological Studies Program at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman.

Mijares says a metatarsal or foot bone of Callao man, which is at least about 67,000 years old, was unearthed together with the remains of native brown deer (Cervus Mariannus), the Philippine warty pig (Sus Philippensis), and an unknown possibly extinct bovid.

“The discovery puts the Philippines in the map again because based on current knowledge, the Callao remain is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, human remains found in Asia Pacific,” he says.

“Previously, the old remains are those in Tabon Caves aged 47,000 years old, Niah Cave in Borneo at 45,000 and the Mongo man of Australia, which has long been believed to be the earliest to use seafaring technology some 50,000 years ago to move across lands.”

As early as the 1970s, there have been excavation done at the Peñablanca karstic cave but the inability to find fossils pushed back the projects until Mijares had renewed interest to dig the cave again in 2003 and 2007.

After four years of digging, Mijares’ team found the Callao man 270 centimeters below surface.

To determine the age of the bone, Mijares and archaeologists from the National Museum decided to use “uranium-series ablation”, which estimates the minimum age of the uranium deposits that accumulated in the bone over time.

The method is believed to be more accurate than carbon dating, which takes time to measure the “half-lifes” of the crystallized carbonates in fossils and can be relatively “less accurate” over time when carbon deposits deplete and become unreliable.

As the Callao man predates all existing fossil records of early human remains and technology, Mijares pointed out that it also pushes back by 20,000 years earlier the knowledge and use of seafaring technology.

“Its presence on the isolated island of Luzon over 65,000 years ago further demonstrates the abilities of humans to make open ocean crossings in the Late Pleistocene,” Mijares wrote in his journal.

The Callao man was believed to have come from Indonesia by raft, suggesting evidence of seafaring centuries before Tabon Man traveled to Palawan.

Mijares says the lack of stone cutting implements or stones near the site of Callao man’s remains may be hinged on the theory that they mainly use sharpened bamboo edges to cut through things as evidenced by cut marks on animal bones.

Another significance of the Callao man discovery is that it is a possible new species “due to some deviations of features” with the Homo sapiens species or modern man that is said to have evolved in Africa 200,000 years ago.

“To prove if it is a new species or not requires more significant bones such as the skullcap and the mandibles,” says Mijares .

Whether Callao man is a new species or not, Mijares says it is highly significant in “pushing back the date of human dispersal in the archipelago by using raft technology.”

“We said before that for early humans to be able to build bancas, they have to be a modern man and we’ve pushed that capability by 20,000 years earlier than records of the Mongo man in Australia about 45,000 years ago.”

Presently, Mijares is planning to apply for permits and grants to expand the excavation at Peñablanca cave, saying he is sure to find more remains of Callao man.

This time, he will be expanding the search to other caves in the area which he believed “are good places to discover early human remains.”

Photo of excavation team courtesy of Armand Mijares

(This story also appears on Yahoo! Fit To Post)

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