UCL News


UCL in the News: Our male ancestors had harems of females

29 November 2007

Our male ancestors had harems of females that they would jealously guard from the attention of love rivals, according to a study published today.

These findings could help researchers understand how these early human ancestors lived and socialised together, since gorillas live in harems controlled by a "dominant" silverback male.

Dr Charles Lockwood [UCL Anthropology] and his colleagues shed new light on the lifestyle of Paranthropus robustus by analysing a large number of skulls. …

"When we examined fossils from 1.5 to 2 million years ago we found that in one of our close relatives the males continued to grow well into adulthood, just as they do in gorillas," he says.

"This resulted in a much bigger difference between males and females than we see today." …

"It's common knowledge that boys mature later than girls, but in humans the difference is actually much less marked than in some other primates.

"Male gorillas continue to grow long after their wisdom teeth have come through, and they don't reach what is referred to as dominant silverback status until many years after the females have already started to have offspring.

"Our research makes us think that, in this fossil species, one older male was probably dominant in a troop of females. This situation was risky for the males and they suffered high rates of predation as a result of both their social structure and pattern of growth." …

Roger Highfield, 'The Daily Telegraph'