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The upper jaw of Zinjanthropus, or “Zinj,” was discovered by paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey in 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Africa. Scientists had found many primitive stone tools at this site, but no hominid fossils until Zinj. This Zinj skull was reconstructed from several fossils uncovered along with the upper jaw in 1.76-million-year-old sediments. Zinj is unlikely to have been the maker and user of the tools from Olduvai Gorge. The tool maker was discovered a year later. Called Olduvai skull number 7, this second fossil was eventually classified as Homo habilis, an early hominid in the same lineage that gave rise to modern humans. Zinjanthropus was classified as hominid species Paranthropus boisei and represents a lineage separate from our own. Both fossils provided evidence that the common ancestor of chimps and humans existed more than 1.76 million years ago, inspiring the search for yet older hominid fossils in Africa.
Tim White PhD, Human Evolution Research Center, University of California, Berkeley