Archaeologists Discover 2-Million-Year-Old Skull Of Distant Human Cousin
The Paranthropus robustus is believed to have roamed the Earth at a similar time to our direct ancestor the Homo erectus and has therefore been dubbed our ‘distant human cousin’ by researchers.
The almost complete skull was found in the Drimolen cave system near to Johannesburg, South Africa, during an archaeological dig conducted by La Trobe University, Australia.
Check out the skull soon after it was discovered:
As per ABC News, palaeoanthropologist Angeline Leece explained the key differences between the Paranthropus robustus and the Homo erectus.
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.
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.
Researchers hoped the skull discovered in 2018 would help them further understand the microevolution of humans – and, two years on, a new development has been made.
It was initially thought that our ancestral cousins lived in similar social structures to that of gorillas with large, dominant males living in a group of smaller females. However, this skull suggests otherwise.
It turns out this male skull is closer in size to that of its female counterparts than first believed and provides the first high-resolution evidence for microevolution within early hominin species.
In light of this ‘significant development’, researchers are arguing that it could lead to a revised system for classifying and understanding our human ancestors.
These new findings were published in Nature Ecology and Evolution today, November 10.
Archaeologist Andy Herries said, ‘Like all other creatures on Earth, to remain successful our ancestors adapted and evolved in accordance with the landscape and environment around them.’
He continued, ‘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.’
Herries added that they believe that climate change ‘produced environment stressors’ that drove Paranthropus robustus’ evolution.
Who knows what else researchers will be able to work out from the two-million-year-old skull.
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