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Tooth Fossils Show Early Humans Loved Meat

Did you know?

Some of the earliest humans loved meat (Homo).

Of course, some also loved vegetables (Paranthropus robustus).

How do we know? By examining their teeth!

Paranthropus and Homo both emerged in South Africa roughly 1.8 million years ago and lived side by side for several hundred thousand years. Differences in their diet have been used to explain why the Homo lineage succeeded while Paranthropus died out, but it wasn’t previously known exactly what those differences might have been.

Now, new chemical analyses of both groups’ fossil teeth confirm that the two hominids consumed very different foods, with Homo eating considerably more meat than Paranthropus.

The study, published recently in the scientific journal Nature by researchers from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon in France, analyzed the chemistry of the two genera’s teeth and bones, which are derived from the chemistry of what the animal ate.

Interestingly, the study’s authors believe the addition of meat in Homo‘s diet may have allowed our ancestors to evolve big brains, which require a lot of energy to support.

Did you know?

Scientists have recently discovered a two new species of rodent with super-tough teeth!

Andemys termasi, nicknamed the “mouse of the Andes,” would have looked like a rat. The other new species, Eoviscaccia frassinettii, is the oldest known relative of the chinchilla.

An analysis of the new species’ fossilized teeth suggest that open grassland existed 15 million years before the habitat is known to have evolved on Earth.

Pretty amazing stuff!

The researchers believe they lived in grasslands because the new-found species’ back, or “cheek,” teeth had heavily enameled crowns that extended underneath the gums—extra reinforcement for a diet of abrasive, grassy foods.

This dental feature, known as hypsodonty, appears in other modern herbivorous mammals including horses, goats, and cows—and it’s often seen as evidence that fossil animals lived in a grassy environment.

“This is a bit of a debate,” said John Flynn, a co-author of the study. “Some studies don’t show evidence of really abundant grasses in [the region] at this time. But in the present day there’s a very tight correlation between the number of species that have the hypsodonty adaptation and the occurrence of grasslands.

“So we’re quite conservative, but we believe that it’s likely that this represents the oldest grassland environment.”

Amazing what teeth can tell us, isn’t it?

--Dr. Shannon Norman-Kotre, Ann Arbor Dentist


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