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2-Million-Year-Old Skull Of Distant Human “Cousin” Discovered

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  • The ancient skull was believed to have existed on Earth the same time with the Homo erectus, human species’ direct ancestor. This made the Paranthropus robustus our “distant cousin.”
  • Fossil records suggested that our cousin species was much more common on the landscape.
  • Experts believe that there were three human-like species that lived in South Africa at the same time and they were competing with each other.

Archaeologists unearthed a 2-million-year-old skull that was said to be the human species’ distant cousin. The discovery was made in 2018 at the Drimolen archaeological site north of Johannesburg.

The ancient skull was classified as Paranthropus robustus, which was believed to have existed on Earth the same time with the Homo erectus, human species’ direct ancestor.

This made the Paranthropus robustus our “distant cousin.” Although the two species lived during the same time period, the Paranthropus robustus died out earlier.

The dig was conducted by La Trobe University in Australia. The skull was found just meters away from the spot where Homo erectus skull of a child of a similar age was discovered in 2015.

Palaeoanthropologist Angeline Leece explained the major differences between Homo erectus and Paranthropus robustus:

“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.”

The Paranthropus robustus‘ main diet was mainly tough plants, such as bark and tubers.

She added that although the homo erectus was the one that won out in the end, fossil records suggested that our cousin species was much more common on the landscape.

Experts believe that there were three human-like species that lived in South Africa at the same time and they were competing with each other.

The research team was very excited about the discovery, because most of the fossil record are just teeth. So to find a sizable skull fragment is a huge thing.

During the skull’s discovery in 2018, they hoped that the find will help them understand more about the micro-evolution of humans. It very well looks like their hopes were answered.

The skull has disproved initial thoughts that the ancestral cousins of the human species lived like gorillas in terms of social structures, with bigger, dominant males living with a group of smaller females.

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These findings were published this month in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

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