A Brief Biography of 'Nutcracker Man'
The cranium of the extinct early human relative now known as Paranthropus boisei was discovered by Meave Leakey's in-laws, Mary and Louis Leakey, in 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, and helped put the Leakeys on the world stage.
Dated at 1.75 million years old, it initially was known as Zinjanthropus boisei (zinj for an African religion named Zanj, anthropus for ape-human and boisei after expedition benefactor Charles Boise) and later as Australopithecus boisei, before scientists decided it deserved a separate genus, making it Paranthropus boisei.
The discovery of other P. boisei fossils revealed the species lived in East Africa (including Kenya and Ethiopia) from 2.3 million years ago to 1.2 million years ago. The short creatures had big, flat premolars and molars; thick tooth enamel; muscle-attachment surfaces for large chewing muscles; and powerful jaws. Those characteristics earned Paranthropus boisei the nickname Nutcracker Man a name that has been attributed to South African paleoanthropologist Phillip Tobias, a colleague of the Leakeys.
According to Dale Peterson's biography of anthropologist Jane Goodall, the Leakeys took privately to calling the Zinj skull "Dear Boy," and that it was Tobias who convinced them to switch the genus to Australopithecus and who also suggested that the thick molars made the skull look like a children's wooden toy named Nutcracker Man.
"So while the rather obscure and academic debates about naming and grouping the skull kept all the specialists entertained, for the public at large, this same fossil became simply Nutcracker Man," Peterson wrote.
"Nutcracker Man never has been used in the scientific literature, but that
|Contact: Lee Siegel|
University of Utah