Early Human Males Stayed Home While Females Roamed For Mates, Study Says

06/03/2011 02:12 pm ET | Updated Aug 03, 2011 - Early human males may have been homebodies who barely strayed from their native caves, while their female counterparts roamed far and wide to find their mates, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The team’s findings, based on an analysis of 2-million-year-old molars found in South African caves, were published on June 2 in the journal Nature.

Led by Sandi Copeland of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder have used high-tech dental analysis to gain insight into ancient hominins’ relationships to their homelands—and, by extension, to the opposite sex. They examined 19 molars from individuals belonging to two different australopithecine species: Australopithecus africanus, a possible direct ancestor of modern humans who lived 2 to 3 million years ago, and Paranthropus robustus, who lived between 2 and 1.2 million years ago. All of the specimens were found at two adjacent cave sites near Johannesburg, South Africa.

The researchers then used a cutting-edge technology called laser ablation, blasting the teeth with powerful beams to determine which forms of strontium—a metallic element found in soil and absorbed by plants—they contained. Because strontium is digested by animals and incorporated into tooth enamel, it can shed light on the geological environment in which an individual reached maturity.

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