Part 1 of 2
The Africa of around 2.3 million years ago was one
of the most diverse habitats on the planet. Species both familiar
and unfamiliar roamed the plains, such as dinofelis, the
false sabre tooth cat; the giant elephant-like deinotherium;
the herbivorous ancylotherium... and multiple species of
two-legged ape men.
In East Africa (Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya),
a hominid called Paranthropus boisei appeared, surviving
until 1.2 million years ago. This vegetarian hominid was descended
from Paranthropus aethiopicus and had a big, flat face with
a massive jaw. It lived at a time in which the once-great forests had
almost vanished from East Africa, creating a shortage of food such as
Boisei males reached a size of about 137cm
in height and 49kg in weight, and the size difference to females
suggests that they may have lived in groups which were organised in
harems, in which one male mated with many females. Modern gorillas
have a very similar social set-up. Males were easy to spot amongst a
harem of females; they were much more muscular with much bigger
Bosei became fairly specialised in its diet.
Its enormous jaw, massive chewing muscles and huge molars - the
biggest and flattest of any known hominid - long led experts to
believe that its diet consisted principally of tough-to-chew but
more abundant plant foods such as nuts, roots, and tubers (an
underground vegetable, a bit like a potato). More recent research
suggests a strong likelihood that it was eating soft fruit and
grasses, competing directly with ancestral zebra, hippos, warthogs,
By becoming a highly specialised vegetarian,
Paranthropus boisei ensured a comfortable life for itself.
Only by 1.2 million years ago would this specialisation backfire.