DENVER A human ancestor characterized by "robust" jaw and skull bones was a muscular creature with a gorilla-like upper body and more adaptive to its environment than previously thought, scientists have discovered.
Researchers found a partial skeleton -- including arm, hand, leg and foot fragments -- dated to 1.34 million years old and belonging to Paranthropus boisei at the Olduvai Gorge World Heritage fossil site in Tanzania. The find, published in the latest edition of the scientific journal PLOS ONE, represents one of the most recent occurrences of P. boisei before its extinction in East Africa.
"This is the first time we've found bones that suggest that this creature was more ruggedly built -- combining terrestrial bipedal locomotion and some arboreal behaviors -- than we'd previously thought," said Charles Musiba, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver, part of the international research team. "It seems to have more well-formed forearm muscles that were used for climbing, fine-manipulation and all sorts of behavior."
While P. boisei was known for its massive jaws and cranium -- anthropologist Mary Leakey discovered the first skull in 1959 in northern Tanzania -- the build and skeletal adaptations of the rest of the archaic hominin's body have been unknown until recently.
During excavations at Olduvai in 2010-2011, the team discovered the partial skeleton of a large adult individual who is represented by various teeth and skeletal parts. Other team members are Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo, Ph.D., professor of anthropology and prehistory at Complutense University, Madrid; Audax Mabulla, Ph.D., associate professor of archaeology, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Gail Ashley, Ph.D., professor of geological sciences, Rutgers University; David Uribelarrea, Ph.D. a professor of geology at Complutense University of Madrid; Henry Bunn, Ph.D., professor of anthropology, Un
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University of Colorado Denver