Brief communication: Enamel thickness trends in the dental arcade of humans and chimpanzees



In addition to evidence for bipedality in some fossil taxa, molar enamel thickness is among the few characters distinguishing (thick-enameled) hominins from the (thin-enameled) African apes. Despite the importance of enamel thickness in taxonomic discussions and a long history of scholarship, measurements of enamel thickness are performed almost exclusively on molars, with relatively few studies examining premolars and anterior teeth. This focus on molars has limited the scope of enamel thickness studies (i.e., there exist many fossil hominin incisors, canines, and premolars). Increasing the available sample of teeth from which to compare enamel thickness measurements from the fossil record could substantially increase our understanding of this aspect of dental biology, and perhaps facilitate greater taxonomic resolution of early hominin fossils. In this study, we report absolute and relative (size-scaled) enamel thickness measurements for the complete dentition of modern humans and chimpanzees. In accord with previous studies of molars, chimpanzees show lower relative enamel thickness at each tooth position, with little overlap between the two taxa. A significant trend of increasing enamel thickness from anterior to posterior teeth is apparent in both humans and chimpanzees, indicating that inter-taxon comparisons should be limited to the same tooth position in order to compare homologous structures. As nondestructive imaging techniques become commonplace (facilitating the examination of increasing numbers of fossil specimens), studies may maximize available samples by expanding beyond molars. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.