The big question raised in this thesis concerns the differences in diet and tool use between Paranthropus and Homo habilis. Was the use of technology in H. habilis an alternative to the megadont trend seen in Paranthropus in gaining and consuming food resources? So in other words, the technology of Homo habilis is compared to the anatomy of Paranthropus.
In order to investigate this issue, a computer model has been built. In the model there is a population of hominins whose technological and anatomical attributes can be altered. The jaw anatomy can represent either Paranthropus or H. habilis, and the hominins can possess digging sticks and/or stone tools. The hominins move around on a landscape that contains six broad food types, with resources that vary seasonally. The calorie return rate from each food type depends upon the attributes of both the food types and the hominins. The data provided by the model is a calorie count over a number of years, thereby providing a measure of the relative success of the hominins under a range of conditions. By changing the hominin attributes and the conditions of the environment and running the model under a wide range of configurations, it is possible to explore various scenarios.
Thus, a secondary aim concerns the applicability of computer modelling as a research tool to investigate the behavioural ecology of early hominins.
The results showed that despite similar average yearly calorie intake, H. habilis was able to gain more calories when food resources were scarce. Digging sticks could have a considerable difference to the calorie intake of Paranthropus in times of seasonal resource scarcity.
Altogether, modelling has shown to be a useful method, not just for testing hypotheses, but for generating new theories. It is, however, a method that requires commitment to get a model to a useful level, but once there the rewards are clear.
Adam Newton, University of Liverpool, June 2013