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The first skull of Australopithecus boisei


Australopithecus boisei was first described from a cranium recovered in 1959 from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania1,2. This and subsequent finds, mostly from Kenya's Turkana basin3,4,5, resulted in its characterization as a specialized Australopithecus species with a hyper-robust masticatory apparatus2,4,6. A distinct A. boisei facial morphology has been emphasized to differentiate robust Australopithecus lineages from East and South Africa6. A preference for closed and/or wet habitats has been hypothesized7. Here we report some new A. boisei specimens, including the taxon's first cranium and associated mandible, from Konso, Ethiopia. These fossils extend the known geographical range of A. boisei. They provide clear evidence for the coexistence of A. boisei and Homo erectus within a predominantly dry grassland environment. The A. boisei specimens from Konso demonstrate considerable morphological variation within the species. The unexpected combination of cranial and facial features of this skull cautions against the excessive taxonomic splitting of early hominids based on morphological detail documented in small and/or geographically restricted samples.

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Figure 1: A schematic stratigraphy of the Konso deposits bearing Aboisei.
Figure 2: The KGA10-525 cranium and associated mandible.

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The Konso Paleoanthropological Research Project has been conducted under permission from the Center for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (CRCCH), Ministry of Information and Culture, Ethiopia. We thank the CRCCH and the National Museum of Ethiopia for allowing us to undertake our research; the Bureau of Culture and Information of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's regional Government of Ethiopia for support; staff of the Bureau of Culture and Information and of CRCCH for participating in and contributing to the field research; A. Amzaye for discovering the KGA10-525 skull; the administration of the Konso Special Administration District and the Konso people for their support; A. Ademassu, T. Assebewerk, T. Becker, H. Gilbert, C. Guillemot, Y. Haile-Selassie, F. C. Howell, B. Latimer, S. Simpson, M. Umer and Y. Zeleke for field participation, laboratory assistance, and/or suggestions; P. Snow for access to the LANL Geology/Geochemistry Group microprobe facility and assistance; and R. Holloway for the cranial-capacity estimate of KGA10-525. This work was funded by the Mitsubishi Foundation and the Japan Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture.

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Suwa, G., Asfaw, B., Beyene, Y. et al. The first skull of Australopithecus boisei . Nature 389, 489–492 (1997).

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