Dental evidence for the diets of Plio-Pleistocene hominins


  • Peter S. Ungar

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701
    • Department of Anthropology, Old Main 330, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701
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Diet is fundamental to the interaction between an organism and its environment, and is therefore an important key to understanding ecology and evolution. It should come as no surprise then that paleoanthropologists have put a great deal of effort into reconstructing the diets of Plio-Pleistocene hominins. Most of this effort has focused on teeth; these durable parts of the digestive system are usually the most commonly preserved elements in vertebrate fossil assemblages. In this article, I review much of this work. Tooth size, occlusal morphology, enamel thickness, and microstructure provide evidence for the physical properties of the foods to which a species was adapted. Dental microwear can offer insights into the properties of foods that an individual ate on a day-to-day basis. Taken together, these lines of evidence can offer important insights into early hominin food choices and adaptations. New methods of analysis and theoretical perspectives are improving our understanding of the diets of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and early Homo, and promise further progress long intothe future. Yrbk Phys Anthropol 54:47–62, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.