Research ‘final nail in the coffin’ of Paranthropus as hard object feeders

Cortez Deacetis

New investigation from the College of Otago debunks a extensive-held perception about our ancestors’ taking in routines.

For additional than 60 decades, researchers have thought Paranthropus, a shut fossil relative of ours which lived about one particular to three million many years ago, evolved substantial back enamel to eat challenging food things this kind of as seeds and nuts, while our possess immediate ancestors, the genus Homo, is imagined to have advanced smaller teeth thanks to taking in softer food items these types of as cooked foodstuff and meats.

Even so, soon after travelling to various large institutes and museums in South Africa, Japan and the United Kingdom and researching tooth fractures in additional than 20,000 teeth of fossil and residing primate species, Dr Ian Towle, an Otago organic anthropologist, doing the job with Dr Carolina Loch, of the School of Dentistry, suggests this “neat image is much more advanced than the moment considered”.

“By individually studying every single tooth and recording the situation and size of any tooth fractures, we display tooth chipping does not guidance frequent difficult food stuff ingesting in Paranthropus robustus, therefore most likely placing an close to the argument that this team as a entire ended up challenging foodstuff eaters,” he claims.

Dr Towle states the conclusions obstacle our being familiar with of nutritional and behavioural improvements in the course of human evolution.

“The benefits are stunning, with human fossils so much analyzed – individuals in our own genus Homo – displaying extremely high charges of tooth fractures, related to dwelling tricky item eating primates, nonetheless Paranthropus clearly show exceptionally lower degrees of fracture, similar to primates that consume smooth fruits or leaves.

“Though in the latest decades there has been a slow acceptance that a further species of Paranthropus, Paranthropus boisei, located in East Africa, was not likely to have consistently eaten challenging foods, the idea that Paranthropus evolved their big dental equipment to try to eat tough meals has persisted. Thus, this investigation can be noticed as the last nail in the coffin of Paranthropus as difficult item feeders.”

The reality that human beings demonstrate these kinds of contrasting chipping patterns is equally considerable and will have “knock on” consequences for further more analysis, notably research on dietary changes throughout human evolution, and why the human dentition has developed the way it has, he states.

“The regular tooth fractures in fossil humans may well be triggered by non-food stuff things, these types of as grit or stone equipment. On the other hand, no matter of the trigger, these groups were subjected to sizeable tooth wear and fractures. So, it raises questions to why our teeth reduced in measurement, primarily as opposed to groups like Paranthropus.”

Dr Towle’s study will now emphasis on if our dentition developed more compact owing to other things to make it possible for other sections of the cranium to increase, major to evolution then favouring other tooth attributes to guard it against put on and fracture, as a substitute of enhanced tooth size.

“This is one thing we are investigating now, to see if tooth enamel may well have progressed diverse qualities among the terrific apes. Our study as a total could also have implications for our comprehending of oral wellness, given that fossil human samples normally exhibit immaculate dental overall health.

“Because severe tooth have on and fractures had been the norm, our ancestors probably evolved dental traits to not just cope with but truly utilise this dental tissue loss. For illustration, devoid of considerable tooth put on our dentitions can deal with all types of challenges, which include impacted wisdom teeth, tooth crowding and even enhanced susceptibility to cavities.”


Paranthropus robustus tooth chipping patterns do not assistance standard really hard food items mastication, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch, was posted in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Tooth chipping prevalence and pattern in extant primates, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the American Journal of Actual physical Anthropology.

Chipping and put on styles in extant primate and fossil hominin molars: ‘Functional’ cusps are connected with comprehensive use but small ranges of fracture, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was revealed in the Journal of Human Evolution.&#13

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