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The hard and soft of hominid diets.

The hard and soft of hominid diets

The wear patterns on the teeth of early hominids -- the evolutionary family that includes modern humans--can reveal much about what these creatures ate. A report in the June 24 NATURE, based on scanning electron microscope images and a statistical analysis of bands of light on the grinding surface of hominid teeth, suggests that members of the now-extinct Paranthropus lineage ate hard foods such as nuts and seeds, while Australopithecus individuals probably preferred leaves and soft, fleshy fruits.

Frederick E. Grine of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Richard F. Kay of Duke University in Durham, N.C., examined five molar teeth from a South African Australopithecus species that lived about 2.5 million years ago, as well as five molars from South African Paranthropus creatures that lived approximately 1.8 million years ago. The Paranthropus line, referred to by some anthropologists as the "robust australopithecines," died out about 1 million years ago (SN: 5/28/88, p.344). The Australopithecus species studied by Grine and Kay is considered pivotal in hominid evolution, but its place in the hominid family tree is unclear.

The large, flat teeth of Paranthropus long have been considered signs of a vegetarian diet, but there has been disagreement over precisely what was eaten and whether Paranthropus and Australopithecus species from the same region ate the same foods.

Patterns of wear and the frequency of pitting on the surface of Paranthropus teeth are similar to those previously observed among modern primate species that feed on hard foods such as date palm seeds, palm nuts and bark, say the researchers. The wear pattern displayed by Australopithecus is more similar to that of living primate species subsisting largely on leaves and fleshy fruits.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 2, 1988
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