Tracing Historical Humans Through Their Teeth

A Yahoo News article from HealthDay Reporter E.J. Mundell discusses how a “tooth finding shakes the human family tree”.

Vaporized gas from million-year old tooth enamel is stirring debate on how modern humans’ ancient kin won the evolutionary race.

The research focuses on Paranthropus robustis, a genus of small, upright-walking hominids that once coexisted with the early Homo genus in Africa but died out about 1 million years ago.

Based on their relatively huge jaws and teeth, anthropologists have long assumed that Paranthropus dwindled away because they only ate grasses, which began to disappear as the continent’s climate got drier. Homo, on the other hand, had a more varied diet, so it adapted and flourished.

But high-tech research is taking a bite out of that theory.

Re-examination of Paranthropus tooth enamel suggests this creature ate not only grasses, but fruits, nuts and even meat or animal products — much like its neighbor, Homo. It also hints at a level of intelligence and adaptability in Paranthropus that scientists had never guessed at before.

Instead of passively hoping to find one type of food, “Paranthropus is now looking at the same landscape, but they are looking at it differently — looking at what kinds of things are available for eating,” explained lead researcher Matt Sponheimer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado, in Boulder.

If you are researching your family tree as far back as possible, this evolutionary finding is fascinating. For many years the belief was that modern Homo sapiens and the Neanderthal branches developed independently, but the discovery of “Lucy”, a 3 million year old female fossilized remains found in Ethiopia, changed that thinking. Modern scientists now believe that both lines evolved from the hominid line known as Australopithecus

The question still facing researchers is why did the Paranthropus line die out if we can’t blame their restricted diet? According to the article, there are still a lot of theories, including the use of tools to help ensure survival, though a lot more information needs to be collected.

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About Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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