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A buffet for early human relatives

Paranthropus' diet "might reflect yearly differences in rainfall-related food availability," the study's authors write. "Another possible explanation is that these individuals were migrating between more wooded habitats and more open savannas."

Cerling says the study "shows that our early human relatives were able to eat a varied diet and therefore were more adaptable in savanna environments than other primates which had a more restricted diet."

Other studies have suggested that the diets of human ancestors and relatives became more varied about 3 million years ago when Africa's climate started getting drier and more seasonal. That was shortly before the first appearance of stone tools and of Paranthropus and Homo, the genus to which modern humans (Homo sapiens) belong.

The researchers noted that Paranthropus often has been portrayed as a specialist that lacked a varied diet, and that has been used to explain why Paranthropus went extinct as Africa became drier, while tool-wielding Homo ?with a highly varied diet ?survived and evolved.

The new study casts doubt on that theory by showing that Paranthropus, like Homo, also consumed a variety of foods.

"Thus, other biological, social or cultural differences may be needed to explain the different fates of Homo and Paranthropus," the scientists conclude.
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Source:University of Utah


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