Anterior dental microwear in Australopithecus afarensis: comparisons with human and nonhuman primates

Alan S. Ryan, Donald Johanson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

88 Scopus citations

Abstract

Dental microwear observed on the incisors and the canine/premolar complex of Australopithecus afarensis is described. Comparisons are made with three groups of extant African primates: Pan troglodytes troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla gorilla, and Papio hamadryas. Additional comparisons are made with a prehistoric Eskimo dental sample recovered from Point Hope, Alaska. Six distinct types of incisal dental microwear are found in these groups. These include fine wear striae, polish, small pits, large pits, gouges, and microflakes. These microwear types are related to suggested dietary conditions, feeding behaviors, and dental functions. It is shown that each species exhibits a different set of microwear types. Results of this study show that incisal dental microwear in A. afarensis is most similar to that observed in Gorilla, and to a lesser extent, in Papio. It is suggested that the incisors of A. afarensis were used to strip leaves and to chew hard foods such as roots, seeds, and rhizomes. Dental microwear observed on the canine/premolar complex of A. afarensis indicates that these teeth did not serve a shearing/slicing function as they do in modern apes or in baboons. Rather, it appears that the canine/premolar complex of A. afarensis was used primarily to puncture-crush food.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-268
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Volume18
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1989

Keywords

  • Australopithecus afrensis
  • dental function
  • dental microwear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology

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