Scientists have discovered that the ancient species related to mankind dubbed the Nutcracker Man had large flat teeth that were more used to eating grass than the diet of modern man – or even our own other ancestors. The nutcracker man has been dubbed more bovine in its diet and didn’t enjoy meat.
The creature, with its massive jaw and unusually large teeth first caught the eye of scientists when it was discovered to be a hominid. Paranthropus Boisei lived in Africa over one million years ago. But rather than a direct ancestor to modern humans, Paranothropus Boisei was actually an offshoot that lived at the same time as our current ancestors did. And Matt Sponheimer has been researching it for years.
Discoveries pertaining to the ancestry of modern man have always fascinated us all because they don’t just tell us the story of another species. It tells us not only what we might have been, but where we may have come from, and the various ways humanity could have turned out differently if other lineages had been more successful than humans.
The creatures would have had a bite far harder than the current modern man and would have been able to crack nuts and seeds easily between their massive teeth. The Paranthropus Boisei may not have only enjoyed nuts, but also grass. Occasionally it would supplement these by utilizing its incredibly powerful bite by eating hard fruits as well.
The nutcracker man’s true diet was discovered using a new technique that actually looks into the structure of the teeth itself to see what may have been embedded within after years of chowing down. They painstakingly did this by taking the teeth which were rediscovered from Kenya and dragging a sharp tool very much like a dentist’s tool across them and extracting the layer just beneath the enamel. The researchers were astonished to discover the incredible truth. An ancient ancestor to humans was related to another that not only ate fruit and nuts, but also grass. And it did so in great numbers.
So while our vegetarian relative may have had a strange diet, this was more than enough to keep it active and healthy. Indeed the Paranthropus Boisei is suspected to have enjoyed a relatively long life for the time period. And the eating of grass at this juncture may not have been as extreme a move before evolution took this trait away from us. Imagine the incredible bounty of food the creature would have enjoyed! If grass were edible, it would have meant food shortages would be very unlikely. And yet somehow humanity outlived this ancient ancestor despite having a more specific diet. And we can only begin to wonder why.
Of course there are several grasses humans have used for food in the past. In fact even wheat grass is still widely consumed – although it is more of a supplement than a staple.