Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Amy Rector


There are conflicting theories about the eating habits and corresponding environmental needs of Paranthropus boisei and Paranthropus aethiopicus, two species of extinct hominins that existed ~2.8 to ~1 Ma in eastern Africa. Paranthropus species are well-known for their unusually large molars and sagittal crest (a bony ridge on their skulls which allowed for large chewing muscle attachments), these skeletal adaptations were once thought to be due to their feeding on hard foods; however, recent isotope data and dental microwear studies question the simplicity of this assumption. This has revealed a gap in our understanding of the environmental needs of our ancestral cousins. Fossil antelope (bovids) are often used to reconstruct environments that supported communities found at sites throughout Africa because of their extreme specialization to specific habitats. Bovids are not only the most abundant remains in the fossil record but also exhibit consistent feeding habits that have endured over time. In order to reconstruct the environments that supported eastern African Paranthropus an analysis of their faunal communities was necessary. Fossil faunal lists were collected from 12 sites in eastern Africa that contain the faunal community of Paranthropus. Multiple g-tests of independence were performed to examine and compare the proportions of antelope tribes present. A focus on key indicator species that signal known environments revealed that these sites are not statistically different. The similarity of these 12 sites allows for an understanding of the environmental features that were essential for Paranthropus. This analysis further supports the idea that P. boisei and P. aethiopicus had very specific environmental requirements which were met by these sites in eastern Africa. The results indicate that these two Paranthropus species inhabited primarily grassland environments which included nearby water source, most likely wetland or lacustrine (lakeside) areas. This reconstruction aligns with recent isotope data which highly suggests that the skeletal adaptations of these two species were not exclusively for chewing hard food items, like nuts, and were instead consuming mixed diets of primarily tough C4 resources which would have been plentiful in these habitats.


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