Getting to the roots of our ancient cousin's diet

phys.org | 8/28/2018 | Staff
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Food needs to be broken down in the mouth before it can be swallowed and digested further. How this is being done depends on many factors, such as the mechanical properties of the foods and the morphology of the masticatory apparatus. Palaeoanthropologists spend a great deal of their time reconstructing the diets of our ancestors, as diet holds the key to understanding our evolutionary history. For example, a high-quality diet (and meat-eating) likely facilitated the evolution of our large brains, whilst the lack of a nutrient-rich diet probably underlies the extinction of some other species (e.g., P. boisei). The diet of South African hominins has remained particularly controversial however.

Using non-invasive high-resolution computed tomography technology and shape analysis the authors deduced the main direction of loading during mastication (chewing) from the way the tooth roots are oriented within the jaw. By comparing the virtual reconstructions of almost 30 hominin first molars from South and East Africa they found that Australopithecus africanus had much wider splayed roots than both Paranthropus robustus and the East African Paranthropus boisei. "This is indicative of increased laterally-directed chewing loads in Australopithecus africanus, while the two Paranthropus species experienced rather vertical loads", says Kornelius Kupczik of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Paranthropus - Robustus - Species - Study - Orientation

Paranthropus robustus, unlike any of the other species analysed in this study, exhibits an unusual orientation, i.e. "twist", of the tooth roots, which suggests a slight rotational and back-and-forth movement of the mandible during chewing. Other morphological traits...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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