Biology of early human relative uncovered

The partial skeleton of an ancient hominin has been uncovered for the first time in Tanzania, giving a new insight into the species' biology, say scientists.

Biology of early human relative uncovered
Paranthropus boisei - forensic facial reconstruction [Credit: Cicero Moraes]
The accidental discovery was made last year when, during an archaeological excavation, scientists uncovered pieces of skull, teeth and limb bones.

The bones belong to an early hominin, called Paranthropus boisei, which lived 1.34 million years ago in Eastern Africa and shares an ancestor with humans. Archaeologists had only ever discovered parts of skulls belonging to this species, so until now had no real evidence of its size or how it was adapted to its environment.

'The Paranthropus species lived at a time when the climate of eastern Africa was changing, moving from wet savannahs populated with many trees to the grassland we see today. Creatures that lived in the trees began to disappear as their resources died,' explains Dr Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, of the Museo de los Orígenes in Madrid, Spain, lead author on the paper published in Plos ONE.

To thrive during these changes many species were adapted to cope in a huge variety of environments, and with a widely varied diet.

The team uncovered an exceptionally large humerus bone which suggests Paranthropus had large forearms designed for tree-climbing. But its large molar teeth suggest it would also have spent a lot more time on the ground than some of its tree-dwelling ancestors.

Biology of early human relative uncovered
Early hominid bones [Credit: Javier Trueba]
'The molar teeth are much larger than the teeth we see in humans today; it shows that they would put anything and everything into their mouths. They are also the only hominin we've ever seen that survived on eating grass,' Domínguez-Rodrigo continues.

The scientists determined that the animal they discovered was a male, in the prime of fitness by studying the well-preserved femur and humerus bones and teeth.

'It was exciting to see for the first time how big this Paranthropus was,' explains Domínguez-Rodrigo. 'This animal weighed about 60 kilograms we think – significantly heavier than estimates we have for another specimen, which we think may be a female Paranthropus.'

'The femur and humerus we found also showed similarities with Homo erectus, which we think may have been around at the same time as Paranthropus,' he continues.

Homo erectus may have evolved from the same ancestor as Paranthropus. But while the homo erectus evolved into modern day humans, Paranthropus became extinct.

Author: Harriet Jarlett | Source: PlanetEarth Online [January 22, 2014]

Posted by TANN on 8:00 PM. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0

3 comments for Biology of early human relative uncovered

  1. About 133 lbs. Not exactly King Kong.

  2. Very interesting fossil: skull+postcrania of A.boisei together.
    Some comments though:
    -"early hominin"? Hominin (sensu australopiths+Homo) is probably paraphyletic: the humanlike characters in australopiths (orthogrady, thick enamel, low lilia etc.) are primitive for hominoids (eg, Morotopith was orthograde, "Ramapith" had thick enamel, humans-gibbons-monkeys have low ilia, etc.).
    -"Paranthropus" is paraphyletic: East- & South-African apiths evolved in parallel (synchronously: in response to the same environmental changes?), gracile>robust: afarensis>boisei // africanus>robustus.
    -"widely varied diet"? A.boisei was found in lagoons, papyrus swamps & wetlands, where they (like lowland gorillas today in forest bais, google "gorilla bai") probably fed on papyrus sedges or other floating vegetation (P-F.Puech) & possibly hard-shelled invertebrates living in this vegetation (A.Shabel).
    -"large forearms designed for tree-climbing"? R.Leakey noticed resemblances of boisei's arm-bones to knuckle-walkers: longer arms mostly for KWing? The heavy weight (indeed no King Kong) argues against frequent climbing.
    -"became extinct": Yes, H.erectus is also extinct, neverthelss, sapiens might descend from (close relatives of) erectus. In the same way, different authors (Kleindienst, Gribbin, myself & others) have argued that boisei stood evolutionarily closer to Gorilla than to Homo-Pan.
    A.boisei was orthograde (with habitually vertical lumbar spine), they probably frequently waded bipedally & floated with vertical spine in swamps/bais/lagoons (cf lowland gorillas) & perhaps sometimes climbed vertically (google "aquarboreal", but on land they might have been more knuckle-walking than upright-walking.
    Google "Greg Laden misconceptions Verhaegen"

  3. Very interesting fossil: skull+postcrania of A.boisei together.
    Some comments though:
    -"early hominin"? Hominin (sensu australopiths+Homo) is probably paraphyletic: the humanlike characters in australopiths (orthogrady, thick enamel, low lilia etc.) are primitive for hominoids (eg, Morotopith was orthograde, "Ramapith" had thick enamel, humans-gibbons-monkeys have low ilia, etc.).
    -"Paranthropus" is paraphyletic: East- & South-African apiths evolved in parallel (synchronously: in response to the same environmental changes?), gracile>robust: afarensis>boisei // africanus>robustus.
    -"widely varied diet"? A.boisei was found in lagoons, papyrus swamps & wetlands, where they (like lowland gorillas today in forest bais, google "gorilla bai") probably fed on papyrus sedges or other floating vegetation (P-F.Puech) & possibly hard-shelled invertebrates living in this vegetation (A.Shabel).
    -"large forearms designed for tree-climbing"? R.Leakey (1971 Nature 231:242-5) noticed resemblances of boisei's arm-bones to knuckle-walkers: longer arms mostly for KWing? The heavy weight (indeed no King Kong) argues against frequent climbing.
    -"became extinct": Yes, H.erectus is also extinct, neverthelss, sapiens might descend from (close relatives of) erectus. In the same way, different authors (Kleindienst, Gribbin, myself & others) have argued that boisei stood evolutionarily closer to Gorilla than to Homo-Pan.
    A.boisei was orthograde (with habitually vertical lumbar spine), they probably frequently waded bipedally & floated with vertical spine in swamps/bais/lagoons (cf lowland gorillas) & perhaps sometimes climbed vertically (google "aquarboreal", but on land they might have been more knuckle-walking than upright-walking.
    Google "Greg Laden misconceptions Verhaegen"

Leave comment

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Designed by SimplexDesign 2010. All Rights Reserved.