The skull was painstakingly reconstructed. Image Credit: La Trobe University
Dating back 2 million years, the skull belonged to an early human cousin called Paranthropus robustus.
The near-complete skull was discovered by an Australian-led archaeological team who had been exploring the Drimolen cave system near Johannesburg for evidence of ancient human remains.
It is the earliest and most complete example of a Paranthropus robustus skull ever found.
First discovered in 1938, the species had very large teeth capable of high bite forces and may have been at a stage of evolution somewhere between dwelling in trees and walking on the ground.
It shared the Earth with one of our direct ancestors - Homo erectus.
"But these two vastly different species - Homo erectus with their relatively large brains and small teeth, and Paranthropus robustus with their relatively large teeth and small brains - represent divergent evolutionary experiments," said palaeoanthropologist Angeline Leece.
"While we were the lineage that won out in the end, two million years ago the fossil record suggests that Paranthropus robustus was much more common than Homo erectus on the landscape."
The newly discovered skull, which was pieced together from hundreds of small fragments, may have belonged to a member of a Paranthropus lineage that lasted 1 million years.
"Like all other creatures on earth, to remain successful our ancestors adapted and evolved in accordance with the landscape and environment around them," said archaeologist Andy Herries.
"We believe these changes took place during a time when South Africa was drying out, leading to the extinction of a number of contemporaneous mammal species. It is likely that climate change produced environmental stressors that drove evolution within Paranthropus robustus."
Source: The Guardian | Comments (3)
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