Tooth Tartar of Ancient Hominid Uncovers an Unlikely Diet of Trees, Shrubs and Fruits

Diet of Trees, Shrubs and FruitsSAN FRANCISCO AND SAN RAFAEL, CALIFORNIA – Researchers discovered an unusual diet in a 2 million-year-old hominid by analyzing carbon in fossilized teeth enamel. The hominid, called Australopithecus sediba, survived on hard foods such as bushes, trees and fruits. The first two A. sediba remains were found in 2008 by a research team at Malapa Cave in South Africa.

Dr. Greg Larson watches this study for its analysis of ancient diets through dental fossils. Nature published a paper on the study online on June 27.

Researchers in this study used lasers to free the carbon from the fossilized tooth enamel. The carbon isotope values were determined to be either C3 or C4; C3 insinuates a diet of bushes, shrubs and trees, and C4 means a diet of sedges and grasses.

“The teeth from the two A. sediba individuals analyzed in the study had carbon isotope values outside the range of all 81 previously tested hominids,” according to a University of Colorado Boulder news release.

UC-Boulder doctoral student Paul Sandberg calls the dietary difference of the A. sediba compelling. Researchers were able to detect microscopic specks of solidified plant tissue, called phytoliths, within the ancient dental tartar.

“The fact that these phytoliths are preserved in the teeth of 2 million-year-old hominids is remarkable and speaks to the amazing preservation at the site,” Sandberg says addressing San Francisco and Berkeley dentists. “The phytolith data suggest the A. sediba individuals were avoiding the grasses growing in open grasslands that were abundant in the region at the time.”

Sandberg is co-author of this study led by the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. He compares the diet of the A. sediba to the diet of modern African chimpanzees. Primates are known to eat bark and wood, as they have important dietary components such as protein and sugar.

A. sediba most likely walked upright, due to the strength of the femur and humerus, according to The Museum of Natural History. A. sediba had long arms and small bodies, and they are believed to exhibit sexual dimorphism, or a size and shape difference between males and females.

Dr. Larson as a provider of dental services to suburb cities of San Francisco, that includes veneers for San Rafael and Berkeley, watches these dental research methods unfold while providing expert oral care to patients in the present.

Larson Dentistry serves patients in San Francisco and San Rafael. Cosmetic dentistry helps our patients feel confident about their smiles. Contact our office to schedule a general dentist appointment or to discuss specialized procedures such as dental implants, laser gum recontouring and full mouth rejuvenation. In San Francisco and Berkeley, teeth whitening finalizes our patients’ straight, healthy smiles.

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