Zinjathropus Skull, National Museum in Dar es Salaam

Zinjathropus Skull, National Museum in Dar es Salaam

First discovered by anthropologist Mary Leakey on July 17, 1959, at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, the well-preserved cranium (nicknamed “Nutcracker Man”) was dated to 1.75 million years ago and had characteristics distinctive of the robust australopithecines.

Mary and her husband Louis Leakey classified the find as Zinjanthropus boisei: “Zinj” for the medieval East African region of Zanj, “anthropus” Greek for “human being”, and “boisei” for Charles Watson Boise, the anthropologist team’s benefactor.

Paranthropus boisei (as the species was eventually categorized) proved to be a treasure, especially when the anthropologists’ son Richard Leakey suggested it was the first hominid species to use stone tools. Bernard Wood of the University of Liverpool, England, posits that tools discovered in Ethiopia and dated to 2.5 million years ago could have been made by Paranthropus boisei.

A well-preserved jaw, known as the Peninj Mandible, was found by Richard’s colleague Kamoya Kimeu in 1964 in Peninj, Tanzania. Another skull, specimen KNM ER 406, was unearthed in 1969 by Richard at Koobi Fora near Lake Turkana, in Kenya.

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