More than one way to be human: Paranthropus


Mar. 8, 2021, 11:30am to 12:30pm

Office/Remote Location



Since the 1859 publication of Darwin’s Origin of species, biologists have been predicting the discovery of human ancestors with larger jaws and faces and smaller brains. Over the next 150 years, many of the discoveries have validated these prediction. Species such as Homo erectus, Homo habilis, and the various species of Australopithecus largely validated these predictions. Although there is considerable anatomical variation in these various hominin groups, they generally follow the expected trend predicted by comparison with chimpanzees: over time, the teeth and faces get smaller, while the brain becomes larger, and later species, such as Homo erectus look much more like us than earlier species such as Australopithecus afarensis.

However, another group of human fossils breaks with this pattern. This lineage, composed of at least three species, is known as Paranthropus. In this group, the expected trends do not apply – later species have larger teeth and faces, and the brains do not evolve over time. They have an unexpected combination of traits that suggest an adaptation quite different from our notions of early humans as larger-brained and tool-using apes. Scientists still debate the adaptations of this group and what caused its extinction after almost 1.4 million years of success across Africa.

In this talk, I will discuss the history of the discovery and the ways in which our understanding of this lineage has changed over time. Additionally, I will review recent advances in technology have allowed us to study this lineage in more detail, and the ways in which the unusual anatomical patterns of this group have helped us understand how evolution by natural selection can reshape the craniofacial anatomy of apes and humans.


Free of charge

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Contact Information

Department of Anthropology
Liam Frink

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