Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

A chip off the early hominin tooth: Researchers develop method for determining the diet of our early ancestors

Date:
September 20, 2010
Source:
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Summary:
Were our early mammalian ancestors vegetarians, vegans or omnivores? It's difficult for anthropologists to determine the diet of early mammalians because current fossil analysis provides too little information. But a new method that measures the size of chips in tooth fossils can help determine the kinds of foods these early humans consumed.

Thanks to a new method for determining how the size of a chip found in the enamel of a tooth relates to the bite force needed to produce the chip. With the aid of this information, researchers can better determine the type of food that animals, and early humans, could have consumed during their lifetimes.
Credit: Image courtesy of American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Were our early mammalian ancestors vegetarians, vegans or omnivores? It's difficult for anthropologists to determine the diet of early mammalians because current fossil analysis provides too little information. But a new method that measures the size of chips in tooth fossils can help determine the kinds of foods these early humans consumed.

Prof. Herzl Chai of Tel Aviv University's School of Mechanical Engineering, in collaboration with scientists from George Washington University and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has developed an equation for determining how the size of a chip found in the enamel of a tooth relates to the bite force needed to produce the chip. With the aid of this information, researchers can better determine the type of food that animals, and early humans, could have consumed during their lifetimes.

Teeth are the only relevant fossils with staying power, Prof. Chai explains. Made of hard, mineralized material, teeth from animals that are thousands of years old remain relatively intact. Teeth that display a greater number of large chips indicate that animals like our early ancestors were consuming harder foods such as nuts, seeds or items with bones. A lesser amount of small chips demonstrates that the animal's diet more likely consisted of softer foods, such as vegetation. Dr. Chai's findings were recently reported in the journal Biology Letters.

Joining anthropology and mechanical engineering

In the recent study, Prof. Chai combined his mechanical engineering background with the expertise of anthropologists at George Washington University and material scientists at NIST to develop a simple equation to predict the maximum bite force used to create a tooth chip. The equation correlates well with a commonly-used equation from jaw mechanics -- a more complex approach for determining the maximum bite force an animal can deliver.

Drawn from "fracture mechanics," concerned with the formation of cracks in brittle materials, Prof. Chai's equation takes into account the dimensions of the chip -- its distance from the edge of the tooth -- and from there solves for the bite force required to have made the chip. The maximum force an animal can apply, notes Prof. Chai, relates to the thickness of the enamel and the size of the tooth itself.

"The bigger the tooth, the bigger area for chips to develop, and therefore, the more force the animal can produce," he says. The team surveyed tooth fossils from many types of mammalians, including six hominins, gorillas and chimpanzees.

We are what we eat

A tooth chip is a permanent signature of consumption, says Prof. Chai. His method demonstrates that the probable food sources of a given animal can be determined from a small number of well-preserved teeth. The fossils used for this particular study were widely available at museums. This is an improvement over previous methods, which relied solely on jaw mechanics and required an almost complete skull to determine eating habits.

This moves researchers one step closer towards grasping the dietary habits of early mammalians. Although the study of tooth chips cannot, thus far, reveal exactly what food produced the chip, it allows researchers to determine a range of foods, providing valuable information about the animal's life that other methods tend to miss.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. P. J. Constantino, J. J.- W. Lee, H. Chai, B. Zipfel, C. Ziscovici, B. R. Lawn, P. W. Lucas. Tooth chipping can reveal the diet and bite forces of fossil hominins. Biology Letters, 2010; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0304

Cite This Page:

American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "A chip off the early hominin tooth: Researchers develop method for determining the diet of our early ancestors." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100916121330.htm>.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. (2010, September 20). A chip off the early hominin tooth: Researchers develop method for determining the diet of our early ancestors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100916121330.htm
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "A chip off the early hominin tooth: Researchers develop method for determining the diet of our early ancestors." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100916121330.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Super Healthful Fruits and Vegetables: Which Are Best?

Super Healthful Fruits and Vegetables: Which Are Best?

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) We all know that it is important to eat our fruits and vegetables but do you know which ones are the best for you? Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Panda Might Have Faked Pregnancy To Get Special Treatment

Panda Might Have Faked Pregnancy To Get Special Treatment

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) A panda in China showed pregnancy symptoms that disappeared after two months of observation. One theory: Her pseudopregnancy was a ploy for perks. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Firefighters Rescue Puppy Stuck in Tire

Raw: Firefighters Rescue Puppy Stuck in Tire

AP (Aug. 26, 2014) It took Houston firefighters more than an hour to free a puppy who got its head stuck in a tire. (Aug. 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) A study published in the journal "Neurology" interviewed more than 19,000 people and found 15 percent suffer from being "sleep drunk." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins