Study: Early Women Explored While Men Stayed at Home

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Two million years ago, it was female pre-humans that struck out to find a mate, according to a study of fossil teeth from Africa.

Researchers examined 19 chompers that belonged to our extinct antecedents, Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus. The teeth, unearthed in two South African caves, suggest that half of the female inhabitants hailed from afar, while 90% of the males were homegrown.

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The researchers discovered this by testing the enamel on the teeth for strontium, which varies by region and is absorbed from the soil by plants and animals. While the homebody men shared similar levels of the naturally-occurring element, the ladies’ strontium isotope levels varied, indicating that they came from far and wide.

With most mammals, it’s the males that roam. So why did our foremothers traverse the savannah? A desire to avoid inbreeding may have inspired their travels, said researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Or maybe men simply refused to leave their caves.

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The findings were published in the journal Nature last Thursday.