“Nutcracker Man” dined on grasses, not nuts one million years ago!

May 3rd, 2011 - 3:26 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 3 (ANI): According to a new study, Paranthropus boisei, an ancient human relative that was nicknamed “Nutcracker Man” because of its powerful jaws and large, flat teeth ate grass and not nuts.

The “Nutcracker Man” walked across the African landscape more than 1 million years ago and lived along with direct ancestors of humans, said Matt Sponheimer, anthropology professor at University of Colorado Boulder and study co-author.

“For long, it was assumed that “Nutcracker Man” favored nuts, seeds and hard fruit. However, research on the wear marks of its teeth by other research teams has indicated, it probably ate soft fruits and grasses,” Sponheimer added.

Previous research data, combined with new study that measured the carbon isotopes embedded in fossil teeth to infer diet, indicates that the rugged jaw and large, flat tooth structure helped him swallow huge amounts of grasses or sedges at a single sitting.

Researchers removed tiny amounts of enamel from 22 Paranthropus boisei teeth, each of which contained carbon isotopes absorbed from the types of food eaten during the lifetime.

In tropical environments, virtually all trees and bushes including fruits and leaves use the C3 photosynthetic pathway to convert sunlight into energy, while savannah grasses and some sedges use the C4 photosynthetic pathway.

The isotope analysis revealed that Paranthropus boisei individuals preferred C4 grasses and sedges to C3 trees, shrubs and bushes.

The results indicated the collective diet of the 22 individuals averaged about 77 pc grasses and sedges for a period lasting at least 500,000 years, said Sponheimer.

Research also compared the carbon isotope ratios of Paranthropus teeth with the teeth of other grazing mammals living at the same time and in the same area, like ancestral zebras, hippos, warthogs and pigs.

The results showed that those mammals were eating primarily C4 grasses, virtually identical to Paranthropus boisei.

The research has been published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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