By Maina Kiarie
Paranthropus robustus lived Southern Africa (South Africa) about 1.8 to 1.2 million years ago and is an example of what is called a robust australopithecine. They had huge, broad megadont cheek teeth with thick enamel and focused their chewing in the back of the jaw. Large zygomatic arches allowed the passage of large chewing muscles to the jaw and gave P. robustus individuals their characteristically wide, dish-shaped face. A large sagittal crest provided a large area to anchor these chewing muscles to the skull. These adaptations provided P. robustus with the ability to grind down tough, fibrous foods.
It is now known that ‘robust’ refers solely to tooth and face size, not to the body size of P. robustus.
The first fossil, a jaw fragment, was discovered by Robert Broom in 1938, in Kromdraai, South Africa. Paranthropus means “beside man.”
Males measured on average 3 ft 9 in (1.2 m) in height while females averaged just under 3 ft 3 in (1 m). Males weighed in at about 119 lbs (54 kg) and females 88 lbs (40 kg). The species can be said to display a high level of sexual dimorphism (the difference in size between male and female).
This species had large teeth with strong chewing muscles allowing them to crush and grind hard foods such as nuts, seeds, roots and tubers in the back of the jaw. They also ate soft fruits and possibly young leaves, insects and meat, although scientists are yet to find any stone tools associated with their fossils. Studies of bone fragments show that these early humans probably used bones as tools to dig in termite mounds. Through repeated use, the ends of these bone tools became rounded and polished. Termites provided them with a rich, nutritious source of protein.