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New study reveals Paranthropus boisei diet

This is Olduvai Hominid 5 (OH 5), the most famous of the early human fossils, which was found at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.
This is Olduvai Hominid 5 (OH 5), the most famous of the early human fossils, which was found at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.
Donald C Johanson

New research conducted by Dr. Gabriele Macho from the School of Archaeology at Oxford University that was published in the Jan. 8, 2014, edition of the journal Public Library of Science has explained a 50 year long mystery about the diet and teeth of Paranthropus boisei also called the “Nutcracker Man”.

Paranthropus boisei lived in East Africa between 1.4 and 2.4 million years ago. The early human ancestor had a brain that was large enough to require high calorie content in the homimin’s diet to produce efficient brain function. The teeth of Paranthropus boisei have a structure that suggests the early human ancestor consumed soft foods but the proposed diet of grasses would not have supplied the caloric content necessary for brain function and the amount of travel the early human ancestor required. The abrasion of the teeth of the existing skulls of Paranthropus boisei and the strength of the jaw muscles based on reconstruction from the skeletal remains is not consistent with a diet of grass.

The researchers compared the diet and behavior of baboons that live in the same area at the present time and determined that the diet of Paranthropus boisei consisted mainly of tiger nuts, an edible grass bulb.

The tiger nuts would have supplied about 80 percent of the necessary caloric intake for the Nutcracker Man and may have been supplemented with fruits, worms, and grasshoppers.

The researcher’s presumption is confirmed by a chemical analysis of the carbon content in the bones of Paranthropus boisei and by the proposed time constraint of six hours foraging time per day. Baboons were found to be twice as fast at digging tiger nuts out of the ground as the Nutcracker Man due to higher levels of manual dexterity.