The discovery of a two-million-year-old skull in South Africa gives more clarity about the evolution of humans, Australian researchers announced.
The skull belongs to a male of the species Paranthropus robustus, a “cousin” of Standing man, believed to be a direct ancestor of modern humans.
The two species lived more or less at the same time, but Paranthropus robustus it was extinguished first.
The team of researchers described the discovery as exciting.
“Most of the fossil remains are just a single tooth, so having something like this is very rare, we are very lucky,” Dr. Angeline Leece told the BBC.
The researchers, from Melbourne’s Trobe University, they found the skull fragments in 2018 at the Drimolen archaeological site, north of Johannesburg.
They were discovered a few meters from the place where the skull of a Standing man infant of the same seniority in 2015.
Archaeologists then spent the last few years assembling the pieces and analyzing the fossil. The discoveries were published in the magazine Nature, Ecology and Evolution, this Tuesday.
Jesse Martin, one of the fellow researchers, told the BBC that handling the fossil chunks was like work with “wet cardboard”, explaining how he used plastic straws to suck up the last bits of embedded dirt.
“Species in competition”
It is believed that three species of hominids (beings with human characteristics) lived at the same time in South Africa in competition with each other.
As such, this discovery of the skull is a rare example of the “microevolution” within human ancestry, Martin noted.
Paranthropus robustus had large teeth and a small brain, unlike Standing man who had a large brain and small teeth. It is believed that the diet of the former was mainly based on tough plants, such as tubers and bark.
“Over time, Paranthropus robustus it probably evolved to generate and withstand greater shock from biting and chewing food that was harder or mechanically difficult to process with your teeth and jaws, “said Dr. Leece.
Scientists comment that it is possible that a more humid environment caused by climate change may have reduced the amount of food available for them.
However, Standing man, with his smaller teeth, he was probably better inclined to consume both plants and meat.
“These two vastly different species … represent divergent evolutionary experiments“added Dr. Leece.
“While we belong to the ancestors who were ultimately victorious, the fossil record suggests that two million years ago it was much more common to see Paranthropus robustus in the environment that Standing man“.
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