Teeth Tell Tales


January 21, 2008
208 Views

In an earlier blog, I discussed how experimental archaeologists can help us understand how ancient hominids manufactured stone tools. Astute readers might bring up these two facts:

• Stone tools date back to “only” 2.6 million years ago, and
• Currently, the earliest fossil hominids are dated back to 6, perhaps even 7 million years ago.

Can we ever hope to reconstruct the oldest hominids’ behavior, given that we do not have the benefit of associated artifacts?

The answer is yes. Our ability to reconstruct ancient hominid behavior predating the earliest know stone tools is more limited than that of the genus Homo, but it is possible nonetheless. How? The clues are in the bones and teeth.

Working like a forensic anthropologist:  paleoanthropologists can tell us about the age of individuals and their diet. Lucy is identified as an adult individual based on the presence of her wisdom teeth.

With regards to reconstructing ancient diet: the teeth of the species Paranthropus boisei were very large, set in immense jaws, with the lower jaw connected by massive muscles to a bony ridge on top of the skull. This configuration suggests the ability to crack open or chew through some very tough foods.

Given that Paranthropus existed for 900,000 years or more, the retention of these dental traits must imply that this dental characteristic served a purpose. As the thinking goes, if Paranthropus was eating primarily softer food items, like berries, then over time, its massive jaw architecture and very large teeth would have diminished in size.

Dirk
Authored By Dirk Van Tuerenhout

As curator of anthropology, Dirk is responsible for the museum’s artifact collection and is involved in its temporary and permanent anthropology exhibits. Dirk is an expert in human cultures; he curates the Museum’s Hall of the Americas and specializes in native American cultures like the Aztec and Maya.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Become An HMNS Member

With a membership level for everyone; Don't just read about it, see it.

View All Membership Levels

Editor's Picks How long could YOU Survive in the CBC?? Creature Feature: Yellow Tiger Longwing 5 Of The Most Magical Objects at HMNS We Don’t Mean To Bug You, But We Have To Tell You About Our Awesome Entomology Collection! My Favorite Part About Camp! Unwrapping HMNS: An Interview With A Gladiator
Follow And Subscribe

Equally Interesting Posts




HMNS at Hermann Park

5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston,Texas 77030
(713) 639-4629


Get Directions Offering varies by location
HMNS at Sugar Land

13016 University Blvd.
Sugar Land, Texas 77479
(281) 313-2277


Get Directions Offering varies by location
George Observatory

21901 FM 762 Rd.
Needville, Texas 77461
(281) 242-3055

Hours
Tuesday - Saturday By Reservation
Saturdays 3:00PM - 10:00PM
Saturdays (DST) 3:00PM - 11:00PM
DST = Daylight Savings Time.
Please call for holiday hours. Entry to Brazos Bend State Park ends at 9:30 p.m. daily
Get Directions Offering varies by location

Stay in the know. Join our mailing list.