• Neandertals;
  • Masticatory biomechanics;
  • Dietary reconstruction;
  • Anterior tooth use


Considerable debate has surrounded the adaptive significance of Neandertal craniofacial morphology. Numerous unique morphological features of this form have been interpreted as indicating an adaptation to intense anterior tooth use. Conversely, it has been argued that certain features related to muscle position imply a reduced mechanical advantage for producing bite forces on the incisors and canines. In this study, hypotheses about morphological specializations for anterior tooth use have been derived from a biomechanical model of Greaves (1978). These hypotheses were tested by performing separate pairwise comparisons of Neandertals and early Homo sapiens, and Inuits and Native Americans from Utah. Inuits are known to have produced repeated and high magnitude forces on their anterior dentition and therefore serve as a good model for a hominid adapted to intensive anterior tooth use. Biomechanically relevant dimensions of the masticatory system were measured using a computer-driven video analysis system and compared between the two taxa in each comparison. The results of this study reveal a number of similarities between the morphological specializations exhibited by Neandertals and Inuits that can be related to intensified anterior tooth use. The hypothesis that Neandertals were poorly designed for producing masticatory forces is rejected. Specializations that differ between the two groups are interpreted as being the result of differential functional demands placed on the postcanine dentition in Neandertals and Inuits. It is suggested that many of the unique morphological features of the Neandertal face are a response to intensified use of the anterior dentition and the need to retain a sufficiently large postcanine occlusal area necessary for a relatively high attrition diet. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.