Early hominid diets from quantitative image analysis of dental microwear.
The dietary habits of the early hominids Australopithecus and Paranthropus have long been debated. Robinson argued that the two species differed in the proportions of meat and vegetables consumed. More recently it has been suggested that Paranthropus, with its presumably larger body size, simply processed greater amounts of the same foods eaten by Australopithecus to maintain 'functional equivalence'. Microscopic dental wear patterns are related to the dietary habits of extant mammals, and quantification of these patterns is useful in distinguishing among primates with different diets. Nevertheless, few attempts have been made to use microwear in the reconstruction of early hominid diets, and only very recently has the quantification of such data been initiated. While microwear fabrics can be reduced to individual elements (for example, scratches and pits), there is some disagreement over exactly how they should be defined and measured. Fourier transforms have been applied successfully in the study of a variety of physical and biological patterns, and recently they have been used to characterize and distinguish different tooth wear patterns more objectively. Here we report the first combined use of image processing and other quantitative techniques to analyse the dental microwear of early hominids. Our results suggest that Paranthropus ate substantially more hard food items than Australopithecus.
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