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Early hominid had unusual diet: eating grasses, sedges goes back at least 3 million years.

A mysterious, 3-million-year-old member of the human evolutionary family had a maverick taste for grasses and flowering plants called sedges, a chemical analysis of the creature's teeth suggests.

Central Africa's Australopithecus bahrelghazali was apparently not a devotee of leaves, fruit and other standard fare of early hominids based in forested areas. Instead, it fed mainly on underground parts of grasses and sedges growing in a savanna landscape, archaeologist Julia Lee-Thorp of the University of Oxford and her colleagues report online November 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The only known remains of A. bahrelghazali are a partial lower jaw holding seven teeth, as well as teeth from other individuals unearthed in 1993 at Koro Toro in Chad. Researchers concluded that the hominid species lived between 3.6 million and 3 million years ago.

Lee-Thorp's team measured two forms of carbon in teeth from three A. bahrelghazali individuals and in fossil teeth of various animals found at Koro Toro. One form of carbon comes mostly from grasses and sedges, and the other mainly from shrubs and trees.

More fossil teeth will be needed before researchers can flesh out all A. bahrelghazali's eating habits, says anthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

"The puzzle of early hominid food choices looks more and more complicated as we add pieces to it," Ungar says.

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Title Annotation:Humans; Australopithecus bahrelghazali
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 15, 2012
Words:238
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