Paranthropus is an extinct bipedal hominid genus which lived approximately 2.7 to 1.2 million years ago – from the Pliocene Period through the Pleistocene Period. This genus is actually composed of 3 different hominid species which have helped scientists to link modern humans to our earlier human ancestors. The three groups in this species include Paranthropus aethiopicus, Paranthropus boisei and Paranthropus robustus.
What are hominids? Hominids are formally known as the Great Apes and they comprise 4 different genera, which includes humans, gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans. How the word hominid is used has changed over the years, but it is usually used to refer to human and their close ape ancestors. All hominids are at least 97% genetically identical to human beings.
The first of these hominids to be found was Paranthropus robustus in 1938 when a jawbone fragment was found in a farm field in South Africa. This jaw bone was then sent to Robert Broom. After he decided it was an altogether different species than Australopithecus africanus – a known hominid at the time – he then set out to search for more bones and teeth of this species. He collected more and learned that they were about 3 feet tall, weighed around 119 pounds. They lived about 1.8 to 1.2 million years ago.
Paranthropus boisei was the next hominid species to be discovered. It was discovered in 1955 but much wasn’t thought about it at the time because it was believed to have belonged to an existing species at the time. It wouldn’t be until fossils were found in 1959 by Mary Leakey that paleontologists knew they had a new species. Paranthropus pictures of this species show them standing about 4 ‘6” tall and weighing approximately 108 pounds, which is the average height and male of the males of this species. The female of this species was about 4’1” tall and weighed around 75 pounds. They lived about 2.3 to 1.3 million years ago.
Paranthropus aethiopicus was first discovered by French paleontologists in 1967. However, like Paranthropus boisei, scientists didn’t know this was a new species. It wouldn’t be until 1985, when Alan Walker and Richard Leake discovered a skull west of Lake Turkana in Kenya, that scientists realized this was a new species. An interesting fact about this species of Paranthropus is that little is currently known about its size. Hopefully, new fossils will be discovered so that paleontologists can fill in the “gaps” they have in their knowledge of this species.