Dodoma-A human ancestor that was characterised by a ‘robust’ jaw and skull bones was also a muscular creature that had a gorilla-like upper body. Bones have revealed that one of our ancient ancestor was more adaptive to its environment than previously thought. Researchers found the partial skeleton - including arm, hand, leg and foot fragments - dating back 1.34 million years at at the Olduvai Gorge World Heritage fossil site in Tanzania.

The skeleton belonged to a Paranthropus boisei hominid which lived across Africa side-by-side with direct ancestors of humans. Researchers believe the creature stood 3.5 to 4.5 feet tall, was very strong and had a robust frame. The find, published in PLOS ONE, represents one of the most recent occurrences of Paranthropus boisei before its extinction in East Africa.

‘This is the first time we’ve found bones that suggest that this creature was more ruggedly built - combining terrestrial bipedal locomotion and some arboreal behaviours - than we’d previously thought,’ said Charles Musiba, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver. ‘It seems to have more well-formed forearm muscles that were used for climbing, fine-manipulation and all sorts of behaviour.’ We know that it was very strong,’ Professor Musiba said. ‘It’s unprecedented to find how strong this individual was. The stronger you are the more adaptive you are.’

Mary Leakey discovered the first skull of Paranthropus boisei in 1959 in northern Tanzania. While Paranthropus boisei was known for its massive jaws and cranium, the build of the rest of the ancient hominin’s body has been unknown until recently. During excavations at Olduvai in 2010-2011, the team discovered the partial skeleton of a large adult individual who is represented by various teeth and skeletal parts.

Paranthropus boisei was a long-lived species of archaic hominin that first evolved in East Africa about 2.3 million years ago.  The species was part of a line of close human relatives known as australopithecines that includes the famous three million-year-old Ethiopian fossil Lucy, seen by some as the matriarch of modern humans. Roughly 2.3 million years ago, the australopithecines are thought to have split into the genus Homo - which produced modern Homo sapiens - and the genus Paranthropus, that dead-ended.