Post-cranial skeleton of Paranthropus boisei found:


Ad Honorem
Feb 2013

In terms of human evolution, my favorite sub-branch is the Paranthropines. Also known as Robust Australopithecines, they're a subset of the human family designed with massive jaws and a gorilla-like skull. In one sense they're an expansion of the broader Australopithecine body plan, but in another sense they're proof of just how bizarre and fascinating evolution in general is as well as human evolution in particular.

Paranthropines, however, tended to be mostly cranial anatomy and not much of the rest of the skeleton was known. Well, that recently changed and it turns out that Paranthropus boisei was actually a much bigger animal than originally expected. It was at least the match in size of its contemporary Homo erectus with adaptations for both dwelling in trees and full time bipedalism if it so desired.

Paranthropus boisei, the species in question, is both the species that ended up illustrating that human evolution could and did go down truly bizarre routes. The species has also been shown to be more versatile in diet than was prior assumed to be the case. Which of course leads to the question of why genus Homo survived but genus Paranthropus did not, even though odds were that Paranthropus was much more commonly seen in terms of human ancestors than early Homo was.

To which an obvious conclusion is that the real answer is unknown but a probable answer is that Homo was less specialized than Paranthropus and built for collaborative hunting as opposed to predominant plant-eating. The combination of new physique and exploration of new niches gave Homo more versatility than Paranthropus in the long term, and ultimately the other genus was too inflexible to adapt.