It’s not often that a distinguished professor sets out to investigate a scientific discovery made by a 15-year-old boy, but in 1938 Robert Broome made an exception. The British-born paleontologist was well aware that in the 1930s South Africa was gaining fame for its exceptionally primitive-looking hominin fossils. So, when they heard that schoolboy Gert Terblanche had discovered fragments of a hominin skull in a cave there, they immediately tracked him down. Broome’s visit to the boy’s school was beneficial – he later recalled that the teenager was walking around with “probably four of the most valuable teeth in the world” in his trouser pocket.
Within a few months, Broome completed the analysis of the fossils. Deciding that they were different from anything previously discovered, he gave the ancient hominin a new name: paranthropus,
But despite his belief that the remains were valuable, paranthropus Never became famous. Maybe that’s because it was unsuitable: It looked like one of our small-brained ancestors, but it had existed on Earth long before other ape-like humans gave way to larger-brained humans. Even among paleoanthropologists, paranthropus It has been described as a “forgotten” hominin.
Maybe not for much longer. Inspired by the discovery of more fossils, researchers are finally reevaluating this addition to our evolutionary tree — and their work reveals that it was one of the strangest. paranthropus He may have been a skilled tool-maker, but he also likely grazed grass like a cow and communicated with low rumblings like an elephant. The question now is whether the research can bring us closer to understanding how the last ape-people survived in a world dominated by…