The Diet of Australopithecus afarensis

PhysOrg.Com has an interesting item on research presented to the Royal Society on October 20th. The research concerns microwear analysis on australopithecine teeth. The research specifically focuses on Australopithecus afarensis (woohoo, take that Ardipithecus)

The researchers used a combination of a scanning confocal microscope, and scale-sensitive fractal analysis to create a microwear texture analysis of the molars from 19 specimens of A. afarensis, the Lucy species, which lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago, and three specimens from A. anamensis, which lived between 4.1 and 3.9 million years ago. They looked at complexity and directionality of wear textures in the teeth they examined. Since food interacts with teeth, it leaves behind telltale signs that can be measured. Hard, brittle foods like nuts and seeds tend to lead to more complex tooth profiles, while tough foods like leaves generally lead to more parallel scratches, which corresponds with directionality.

This, of course applies to recent diet, rather than long term diet. At any rate, the group compared microwear profiles of the east African species (A. afarensis, A. anamensis, and Paranthropus boisei to the south African species A. africanus, and P. robustus:

The researchers discovered that microwear profiles of the three east African species, A. afarensis, A. anamensis and P. boisei, differed substantially from the two south African species, P. robustus and A. africanus, both of which showed evidence of diets consisting of hard and brittle food.

“There are huge differences in size of skull and shape of teeth between the species in eastern Africa, but not in their microwear,” Ungar said. “This opens a whole new set of questions.”

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  1. It appears to me that someone, True Tiger Recordings, may have hijacked your RSS feed. You may want to look into it.

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