The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The structural morphology of incisor and molar teeth. Tracking the evolutionary pathways in Late Pleistocene humans


1UMR 5199 PACEA, Université Bordeaux 1, Talence, 2Sezione di Antropologia, Soprintendenza al Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico "Luigi Pigorini", Rome, 3Société Etudes Recherches Matériaux, Poitiers, 4UMR 7194 Département de Préhistoire, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris, 5International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, 6Département Géosciences, Université de Poitiers

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Reliable information for assessing evolutionary pathways, phylogenetic relationships, and adaptive strategies in extinct taxa and past populations is hidden within the dental tissues. Studies of enamel thickness (ET) and dental tissue proportions in Late Pleistocene humans have mainly focused on permanent molars. However, recent evidence from the Upper Paleolithic child Lagar Velho 1, Portugal, have shown that a contrasted signal could arise from the independent assessment of the molars and the incisors. Indeed, while the inner structural morphology of Lagar Velho 1's molars traces the extant human figures, its incisors bear a signature unreported in recent humans, closer to the Neandertal condition.

By using a high-resolution microCT record, we compared for ET topographic variation and dental tissue proportions the time-related structural evidence from incisor and molar deciduous and permanent teeth in a sample of European and Near Eastern Late Pleistocene humans, including Neandertals (n = 16) and anatomically modern individuals (n = 5). For each tooth, we virtually assessed the linear, surface and volumetric proportions of its crown components (notably, the enamel/dentine ratio). Our analysis also includes a microCT, radiographic and histological reference sample of worldwide extant human teeth.

While the patterns shown by the molars of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic anatomically modern humans represented in our sample globally fit the recent human condition and are distinguishable from the average Neandertal figures, results from the analysis of the incisors are more contrasted, the early Upper Paleolithic European specimens displaying a structural signature more closely approaching the typical Neandertal pattern.

This study was funded by Fyssen Foundation, French CNRS, Univ. of Poitiers (Centre de Microtomographie), MNHN Paris (AST-RX platform), ESRF Grenoble, EU FP6 Marie Curie Actions MRTN-CT-2005-019564 EVAN, Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, EU TNT Project, Nespos Society.

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