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6.4: Australopithecines

Australopithecines currently come in two flavors, gracile and robust.

$$\text{australopithecines}\; = \text{australopiths}$$

The robust australopithecines were re-grouped into a separate genus, Paranthropus, because they are so different from the hominins that came after them.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)



Gracile australopiths have a wide range of dates and can be grouped into several species.


We've had problems figuring out where to put the robust australopiths in our family tree. Kind of like that distant cousin that you have to invite to the wedding, but can't find a seat for. They are bipedal, so they are definitely closer to us than bonobos, chimps or gorillas, and they have many morphological similarities to other australopiths. But they look much different, with huge mandibles and molars, and a big muscle-head (sagittal crest) like the rest of the great apes. They were nicknamed "Nutcracker Man" because of the huge mandibles, and there is probably some truth to that because we can tell from their teeth and jaws that they had a hard diet. So far, we haven't found any stone tools associated with them. The robust australopiths have had their genus renamed a few times, from Titanohomo, Zinjanthropus, to Australopithecus, and now most paleoanthropologists have settled on Paranthropus.