Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

First plant material found on ancient hominins' teeth

Date:
June 27, 2012
Source:
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Summary:
A 2 million-year-old mishap that befell two early members of the human family tree has provided the most robust evidence to date of what at least one pair of hominins ate.

A quirk of nature allowed scientists to scrape plant material out of preserved plaque found on the teeth of two specimens of Australopithecus seidba.
Credit: Photo by Brett Eloff, courtesy Lee Berger and the University of the Witwatersrand.

A 2 million-year-old mishap that befell two early members of the human family tree has provided the most robust evidence to date of what at least one pair of hominins ate.

A team of researchers including Peter Ungar, Distinguished Professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas, reports its findings June 27 in the journal Nature.

Almost 2 million years ago, an elderly female and young male of the species Australopithecus sediba fell into a sinkhole, where their remains were quickly buried in sediment. In 2010, anthropologist Lee Berger of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and his colleagues described the remains of this newly characterized creature. Now a team of scientists has studied the teeth of these specimens, which proved to have unique properties because of how the hominins died.

"We have a very unusual type of preservation," Ungar said. "The state of the teeth was pristine." Since the two individuals were buried underground and quickly encased in sediment, parts of the teeth were even preserved with a pocket of air surrounding them. Because of this, the researchers were able to perform dental microwear analyses of the tooth surfaces and high-resolution isotope studies of the tooth enamel on these well-preserved teeth. In addition, because the teeth had not been exposed to the elements since death, they also harbored another thing not discovered before in early hominins -- areas of preserved tartar buildup around the edges of the teeth. In this plaque, the scientists found phytoliths, bodies of silica from plants eaten almost 2 million years ago by these early hominids.

"It's the first time we've been able to look at these three things in one or two specimens," Ungar said.

Using the isotope analysis, the dental microwear analysis and the phytolith analysis, the researchers closed in on the diet of these two individuals, and what they found differs from other early human ancestors from that period. The microwear on the teeth showed more pits and complexity than most other australopiths before it. Like the microwear, the isotopes also showed that the animals were consuming mostly parts of trees, shrubs or herbs rather than grasses.

The phytoliths gave an even clearer picture of what the animals were consuming, including bark, leaves, sedges, grasses, fruit and palm.

"We get a sense of an animal that looked like it was taking advantage of forest resources," Ungar said. This kind of food consumption differs from what had been seen in evidence from other australopiths. "They come out looking like giraffes in terms of their tooth chemistry. A lot of the other creatures there were not eating such forest resources." "These findings tell us a really nice story about these two individuals," Ungar said. "It's fascinating that we found something that went into the mouth of these creatures that was still in the mouth of these creatures."

Ungar conducted the microwear analysis. Amanda Henry of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany; Marion Bamford of the University of Witwatersrand; and Lloyd Rossouw of the National Museum Bloemfontein in South Africa conducted the analysis of the phytoliths. Benjamin Passey of Johns Hopkins University; Matt Sponheimer and Paul Sandberg of the University of Colorado at Boulder; and Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M conducted the isotope analysis. Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand oversaw the project.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Amanda G. Henry, Peter S. Ungar, Benjamin H. Passey, Matt Sponheimer, Lloyd Rossouw, Marion Bamford, Paul Sandberg, Darryl J. de Ruiter, Lee Berger. The diet of Australopithecus sediba. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11185

Cite This Page:

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. "First plant material found on ancient hominins' teeth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120627122015.htm>.
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. (2012, June 27). First plant material found on ancient hominins' teeth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120627122015.htm
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. "First plant material found on ancient hominins' teeth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120627122015.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 14, 2014) A hoard of Viking artifacts dating back over 1,000 years is discovered by a treasure hunter with a metal detector in Scotland. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

More Coverage


Ancient Human Ancestors Had Unique Diet

June 27, 2012 When it came to eating, an upright, 2-million-year-old African hominid had a diet unlike virtually all other known human ancestors, says a new ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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