Skip to comments.Early human relative ate prehistoric smorgasbord
Posted on 11/09/2006 4:22:34 PM PST by Pharmboy
The skull of a bipedal hominid Paranthropus robustus is pictured
in this undated photograph. The early human relative from 1.8
million years ago dined on the prehistoric equivalent of a smorgasbord
-- fruit, nuts, roots, leaves and perhaps meat, according to a
study that casts doubt on a key theory about its demise.
An early human relative from 1.8 million years ago dined on the prehistoric equivalent of a smorgasbord -- fruit, nuts, roots, leaves and perhaps meat, according to a study that casts doubt on a key theory about its demise.
The four-foot-tall, 100-pound (45-kg) bipedal hominid Paranthropus robustus lived in what is now South Africa alongside direct ancestors of modern humans, as well as hyenas, saber-toothed cats, elephants, baboons, antelopes and others.
A prevailing notion among scientists has been that Paranthropus was driven into extinction as Africa's climate became drier because it had a very limited diet, while our direct ancestors thrived on a diverse menu.
But scientists, writing on Thursday in the journal Science, used a sophisticated technique to analyze four teeth from the Swartkrans cave site in South Africa, and showed Paranthropus had a much more varied diet than previously thought.
"It seems that they probably were not quite the picky eaters that people have made them out to be," University of Colorado anthropologist Matt Sponheimer, the lead researcher, said in an interview.
His team used a laser to extract small samples from enamel of 1.8-million-year-old molars, then focused on the ratio of two isotopes, or forms of carbon, that indicated the types of food consumed by these little hominids no bigger than chimpanzees.
It turns out that Paranthropus ate leaves, fruit, nuts, seeds, roots, tubers and perhaps even meat from grazing animals, maybe from scavenging, the researchers said. They said Paranthropus may have varied its diets with the seasons of the year, migrating between forests to open savannas, and due to changes in rainfall levels.
"This whole idea that Paranthropus ultimately went extinct because it was so specialized that it couldn't cope with environmental change during the Pleistocene is probably dramatically over-simplified at best and very possibly just outright incorrect," Sponheimer said.
Paranthropus, with big thick teeth, a strong, heavy jaw and strong chewing muscles, previously was thought to have specialized in eating low-quality vegetation requiring lots of chewing.
University of Utah geochemist Thure Cerling, a study co-author, said the researchers would like to do similar studies on other species in humankind's family tree, and planned to approach museums about access to other ancient teeth.
Paranthropus hails from a line of close human relatives called australopithecines that includes the renowned fossil Lucy from Ethiopia dating back 3 million years.
These australopithecines appear to have split about 2.5 million years ago into the genus Homo, which has led to modern humans Homo sapiens, and the genus Paranthropus, which went extinct between 1.3 and 1 million years ago.
"It's sort of that Lucy had children -- Homo on the one hand and Paranthropus on the other. They are twins, more or less. They seem to co-exist amicably for a long time. And then all of a sudden, one falls off the charts," Sponheimer said.
Sponheimer said other possible explanations for the extinction of Paranthropus, not known to have used tools, included direct competition with tool-wielding Homo species or greater vulnerability to predators.
Not "tool-wielding," friend. Weapon-wielding.
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"Whaddya think this is - a Borgasmord?"
Wow, all this information was determined from a partial skull. Simply amazing ! /s
One skull and a room full of 'scientists' and all that time to kill...where can I find a low-stress job like that, hmmm?
Yeah, they left out the bugs...
Dagnabit! That should have read:
Yeah, they left out the bugs, bunny...
Well, if we could figure out how to get paid for being online...
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Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.
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