Dental microwear and diets of African early Homo

Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701, USA.
Journal of Human Evolution (Impact Factor: 3.73). 02/2006; 50(1):78-95. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2005.08.007
Source: PubMed


Conventional wisdom ties the origin and early evolution of the genus Homo to environmental changes that occurred near the end of the Pliocene. The basic idea is that changing habitats led to new diets emphasizing savanna resources, such as herd mammals or underground storage organs. Fossil teeth provide the most direct evidence available for evaluating this theory. In this paper, we present a comprehensive study of dental microwear in Plio-Pleistocene Homo from Africa. We examined all available cheek teeth from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa and found 18 that preserved antemortem microwear. Microwear features were measured and compared for these specimens and a baseline series of five extant primate species (Cebus apella, Gorilla gorilla, Lophocebus albigena, Pan troglodytes, and Papio ursinus) and two protohistoric human foraging groups (Aleut and Arikara) with documented differences in diet and subsistence strategies. Results confirmed that dental microwear reflects diet, such that hard-object specialists tend to have more large microwear pits, whereas tough food eaters usually have more striations and smaller microwear features. Early Homo specimens clustered with baseline groups that do not prefer fracture resistant foods. Still, Homo erectus and individuals from Swartkrans Member 1 had more small pits than Homo habilis and specimens from Sterkfontein Member 5C. These results suggest that none of the early Homo groups specialized on very hard or tough foods, but that H. erectus and Swartkrans Member 1 individuals ate, at least occasionally, more brittle or tough items than other fossil hominins studied.

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Available from: Frederick Grine, Jan 12, 2014
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    • "In general, the pattern of simple and random plant gathering was part of the lifestyle of early hominids until the Middle Paleolithic. During this period, the directional collection of certain plant foods was performed6789. However, the use of plant foods became more sophisticated during the Upper Paleolithic, being characterized by intensive foraging, processing, and storing of a wide range of edible wild plants, especially grass seeds891011121314. "
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    ABSTRACT: Detailed studies of the long-term development of plant use strategies indicate that plant subsistence patterns have noticeably changed since the Upper Paleolithic, when humans underwent a transitional process from foraging to agriculture. This transition was best recorded in west Asia; however, information about how plant subsistence changed during this transition remains limited in China. This lack of information is mainly due to a limited availability of sufficiently large, quantified archaeobotanical datasets and a paucity of related synthetic analyses. Here, we present a compilation of extensive archaeobotanical data derived from interdisciplinary approaches, and use quantitative analysis methods to reconstruct past plant use from the Upper Paleolithic to Middle Neolithic in China. Our results show that intentional exploitation for certain targeted plants, particularly grass seeds, may be traced back to about 30,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic. Subsequently, the gathering of wild plants dominated the subsistence system; however, this practice gradually diminished in dominance until about 6~5 ka cal BP during the Middle Neolithic. At this point, farming based on the domestication of cereals became the major subsistence practice. Interestingly, differences in plant use strategies were detected between north and south China, with respect to (1) the proportion of certain plant taxa in assemblages, (2) the domestication rate of cereals, and (3) the type of plant subsistence practiced after the establishment of full farming. In conclusion, the transition from foraging to rice and millet agriculture in China was a slow and long-term process spanning 10s of 1000s of years, which may be analogous to the developmental paths of wheat and barley farming in west Asia.
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    • "Food can also affect the degree of wear of the tooth crowns. Therefore, in addition to a macroscopic study, a micro-configuration analysis of wear allows us to understand the type of diet (hard or soft) whether based mainly on vegetables, grains or meat (Lalueza et al., 1994; Ungar et al., 2006). Dental calculus is constituted by both organic and inorganic components. "
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    ABSTRACT: Teeth are in close contact with foodstuffs: phenomena such as caries and wear of the crowns are precious keys to gather information on diet and cooking techniques.Phytoliths are granules of hydrated amorphous silica, which are deposited in the oral cavity while chewing fruit and vegetables and incorporated into dental calculus during its formation. In diet investigation, different plants may therefore be related to specific phytolith shapes.Analysis of chemical trace elements, incorporated in dental calculus from ingested food and replacing small percentages of calcium in normal processes of resorption and redeposition, can further enrich the research on ancient diet.The aim of our work was to set up an analytical protocol, focalised on phytoliths and the inorganic elemental composition of dental calculus, on samples coming from medieval skeletons excavated in Caravate (Varese, Italy). The ICP-MS analytical technique proved to be particularly suitable for such studies.The results suggested a diet based both on the consumption of carbohydrates (Dicotyledons, Monocotyledons such as the Poaceae, also known as Gramineae, and Coniferae) and on proteins, mostly derived from fish. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    No preview · Article · Apr 2015 · International Journal of Osteoarchaeology
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    • "3D dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA) techniques have been developed to alleviate inter-observer bias by automating the recognition of microwear features [21], [65]–[67], and have been shown to discriminate diets successfully in a variety of mammalian lineages. DMTA employs scale-sensitive fractal analysis (SSFA) or International Organization for Standardization three-dimensional surface texture parameters (ISO 25178-2) derived from surface elevation data. "
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    ABSTRACT: Low-magnification microwear techniques have been used effectively to infer diets within many unrelated mammalian orders, but the extent to which patterns are comparable among such different groups, including long extinct mammal lineages, is unknown. Microwear patterns between ecologically equivalent placental and marsupial mammals are found to be statistically indistinguishable, indicating that microwear can be used to infer diet across the mammals. Microwear data were compared to body size and molar shearing crest length in order to develop a system to distinguish the diet of mammals. Insectivores and carnivores were difficult to distinguish from herbivores using microwear alone, but combining microwear data with body size estimates and tooth morphology provides robust dietary inferences. This approach is a powerful tool for dietary assessment of fossils from extinct lineages and from museum specimens of living species where field study would be difficult owing to the animal's behavior, habitat, or conservation status.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2014 · PLoS ONE
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