Human ancestors, at least some of them, were more rugged and powerfully built than scientists originally thought that they were, if the most recently discovered bones of Paranthropus boisei are any indication. They had powerful forearms well-suited for climbing trees, as well as being bipedal.
Those are two of the conclusions reached by U.S. scientists in a recent analysis of a partial 1.34 million years skeleton of Paranthropus boisei unearthed in Tanzania. The partial skeleton included leg, had, arm, and foot fragments which indicate that the individual was robust and rugged, although somewhat diminutive, standing somewhere between 3.5-4.5 feet tall, according to a study that the researchers had published in the journal PLoS ONE.
Anthropologist Charles Musiba of the University of Colorado Denver stated that it was “the first time” that bones have been found that Paranthropus boisei was “ruggedly built.” Musiba continued, saying that this human ancestor’s powerfully-built forearms “were used for climbing, fine-manipulation and all sorts of behavior.”
For its stature,the hominid Paranthropus boisei also has a massive cranium and jaws. Those were the features that this ancestor of humans was previously most noted for having, but that was likely because a skull, which was discovered in Tanzania in 1959, was the only remains of the hominid species ever previously unearthed.
Musiba stated, by analyzing the skull, jawbones and teeth of the skull, anthropologists know that the species “was omnivorous” though it primarily ate “plant material.” He said the most recent bones found indicate that the Paranthropus boisei “walked around” on two legs and “it was a tree climber.”
By the thickness of the bones in relation to the overall stature of the creature, Musiba said that it was “unprecedented” to find out just how strong the Paranthropus boisei could get. To Musiba, this also told him that the creature was “more adaptive.” According to Musiba, “The stronger you are the more adaptive you are.”
The upper bodies of the Paranthropus boisei were, indeed, strong. Some researchers have compared it to the upper torso of a gorilla. These ancestors of humans managed to secure a niche for themselves because they were able to adapt to their environments, a trait shared by modern humans.
Paranthropus boisei showed up in Africa about 2.3 million years ago. Because of the scant remains as yet to have been discovered, many researchers began to assume that Paranthropus boisei was similar to species in the Australopithecus genus. However, the latest bones unearthed proves that it’s different, with a more robust frame and a more powerful upper body.
Musiba and his team of researchers are now conducting a more thorough investigation of the bones. They will do more work on the “biomechanics” of the skeletal remains, in an attempt to discover what other types of activities Paranthropus boisei could perform.
The partial skeleton of Paranthropus boisei was unearthed in Tanzania at the famous Olduvai Gorge World Heritage fossil site. The discovery is leading to further insights into the origins and evolution of modern humans. Already, the discovery of the bones points out that the ancestors of humans were more powerfully built and robust than scientists originally thought.
Written by: Douglas Cobb