Early hominid feeding mechanisms


  • E. Lloyd Du Brul

    1. Department of Oral Anatomy, College of Dentistry, University of Illinois at the Medical Center, 801 South Wood Street, Chicago, Illinois 60612
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  • Presented at annual meeting of American Association of Physical Anthropologists. April. 1976, Symposium: “Form and Function in Vertebrate Mastication.”


Three predominant influences mark the evolution of human head form: big brain, erect bipedalism, modified oral apparatus. Confusing interplay between different adaptive requirements of each feature has made explanation of skull structure extremely difficult in the past. It now seems possible to isolate each influence in early fossil forms. A model of mammalian modes of feeding adaptation is proposed in the form of a “Natural Experiment” for tighter analysis of fossil forms. Two forms of australopithecines are recognized, “gracile” and “robust.” Both had closely similar brains, both had erect bipedalism, but each had different masticatory construction. Separation of the first two similar influences isolates the adaptive differences in oral mechanics. The gracile form had a projecting oral apparatus, distinct canine and zygomatic buttresses, moderate jaw-lever development, jaw joint not unlike most higher primates, large unusual anterior teeth, moderately sized posterior teeth. The robust form had a retruded, greatly deepened oral apparatus, “dished-in” face with fused canine and zygomatic buttresses, powerful jaw-lever development, distinctively different joint construction, remarkably small anterior teeth, enormous posterior teeth. Striking evidence for extraordinary jaw movements emerges from these features in the robust form. This is strongly supported by remarkably close parallels in Ursidae: grizzly bear and giant panda.