Technical note: Modeling primate occlusal topography using geographic information systems technology

Authors

  • L. Flynn Zuccotti,

    1. Department of Anthropology and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
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  • Malcolm D. Williamson,

    1. Department of Anthropology and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
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  • W. Fredrick Limp,

    1. Department of Anthropology and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
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  • Peter S. Ungar

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
    • Department of Anthropology, Old Main 330, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701
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Abstract

Most functional analyses of primate tooth form have been limited to linear or area measurements. Such studies have offered but a limited glimpse at differences in occlusal relief among taxa. Such differences in dental topography may relate to tooth function and, so, have considerable implications for the inference of diet from fossil teeth. In this article, we describe a technique to model and compare primate molars in three dimensions using Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) software. We examine unworn lower second molars of three extant hominoids with known differences in diet (Gorilla gorilla, Pan troglodytes, and Pongo pygmaeus), and two fossil forms, (Afropithecus turkanesis and Dryopithecus laietanus). First, we obtained approximately 400 landmarks on the occlusal surfaces of each tooth using an electromagnetic digitizer. Raster “terrain models” of occlusal surfaces were then created by interpolation of the coordinate data. We used GRASS terrain analysis automated techniques to quantify the volumes and slopes of individual cusps. We also used the GRASS watershed technique to identify the volume of liquid that would accumulate in each tooth's basin (a measure of basin area), and the directions and intensity of drainage over the occlusal surface. In sum, GRASS shows considerable potential for the characterization and comparison of tooth surfaces. Furthermore, techniques described here are not limited to the study of teeth, but may be broadly applicable to studies of skulls, joints, and other biological structures. Am J Phys Anthropol 107:137–142, 1998. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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