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Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus

Photograph of an Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus cranium at three-quarter view.

Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus

AAC Catalogue Number:  2004.11.7

Dates: 1.8-1 million years ago

Geographic Range: South Africa

Anatomical Features: 

  • Large teeth with thick enamel for chewing tough foods.
  • Large zygomatic arches and large sagittal crest at the top of the skull to accommodate chewing muscles.
  • Postcranial bone morphology suggests that they were fully bipedal.
  • Highly sexually dimorphic; males are on average 0.2 meters (0.65 feet) taller and 8 kilograms (17 pounds) heavier than females.

Technology Used: Australopithecus robustus used bone tools to forage for termites. Australopithecus robustus possibly used early Mode I (Oldowan) stone tools as well. 

Diet: Diet consisted of tough savannah foods: tubers, grassess, roots, as well as termites and possibly forest plants. 

Other Info:

  • These early hominins may have migrated between forest and savannah habitats as evidenced by their diverse diet. 
  • Several robust australopithecine species including Australopithecus robustusAustralopithecus boisei, and Australopithecus aethiopicus are sometimes referred to by a different genus name, Paranthropus. Their robust chewing features distinguish them from the gracile australopithecines like ‘Lucy’. Debate about nomenclature continues to this day.

Remaining Questions: 

  • What factors resulted in the extreme sexual dimorphism among Australopithecus robustus populations?
  • How is Australopithecus robustus related to contemporary and proceeding hominins?

Description from Bone Clones:

“1.5 to 2 MYA. The Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus Skull SK-48 was discovered by Fourie in Swartkrans, South Africa in 1950 and described by R. Broom in 1952. SK-48, formerly called Paranthropus crassidens, greatly increased what is known about australopithecines. The Transvaal cave site where it was found was blasted by explosives but, remarkably, the skull survived. The skull was found with the right canine, the first premolar and all three molars intact. On the basis of the adult teeth and small sagittal crest, Broom determined the specimen to be an adult female.”