The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Hominin hard object feeding as inferred from dental chipping analysis


Department of Biology, Marshall University

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Ever since Philip Tobias dubbed OH 5 “nutcracker man,” the derived masticatory morphology of the robust australopiths has been associated with hard food consumption. However, recent evidence from the analysis of dental microwear and stable isotopes has cast considerable doubt on this dietary interpretation. These new studies suggest that Paranthropus boisei (as well as Australopithecus afarensis and Au. anamensis) were not consuming hard foods in any significant quantity. We recently introduced a method called dental chipping analysis that can detect the presence of hard foods in the diets of fossil taxa. Because it detects the consumption of large hard objects that are potentially outside the size range of foods that can be detected by dental microwear analysis, we argue that it can sometimes detect the presence of hard foods in the diet even when dental microwear does not. Therefore, we assessed the number and size of chips on the teeth of fossil hominins in order to estimate the frequency with which these hominins ate hard foods. We then compared these frequencies with those obtained from dental microwear. Species examined include P. aethiopicus, P. boisei, Au. afarensis, Au. anamensis, and early Homo from East Africa, and P. robustus, Au. africanus, Au. sediba, and early Homo from South Africa. The results reveal a high degree of tooth chipping in the South African specimens, particularly P. robustus, but noticeably less in the East African specimens, which is in broad agreement with results from dental microwear analysis.

This project is supported by Marshall University’s College of Science and Yeager Scholar’s Program, as well as the National Science Foundation (grant no. 1118385).

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