What did they eat?

|What did they eat?

Before examining fossilized bones and ancient life, it is important to look at the anatomy of modern mammals. Our next activity looked at skulls, limbs, axial skeletons, and teeth of various carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores in present-day Africa.

Sam examines the teeth of a zebra while Aileen looks at the mandible of a warthog.

Sam examines the teeth of a zebra while Aileen looks at the mandible of a warthog.

Dr. Fortelius listens as Larisa and Page discuss limb anatomy. Mike appears to be more interested in the axial skeleton of the goat.

Dr. Fortelius listens as Larisa and Page discuss limb anatomy.
Mike appears to be more interested in the axial skeleton of the goat.

PART 2 – Animals and Food

Now that the students have looked a bit at the anatomy of different mammals from Africa, we decided to visit some camels and goats to study the type of plants they eat and how they chewed their food. Our Ecology professor from the last module, Dr. Dino Martins, joined us in the field to help us identify the variety of plants on the Turkana landscape.

Dr. Martins and Dr. Fortelius join forces for this lesson on the availability of edible plants.

Dr. Martins and Dr. Fortelius join forces for this lesson on the availability of edible plants.

After identifying plants, we moved on to the camels and goats. Students noted the type of vegetation they ate and timed their chewing.

This camel reaches down towards an Indigofera plant.

This camel reaches down towards an Indigofera plant.

Here, a group of camels and a few goats gather around a Balanites tree.

Here, a group of camels and a few goats gather around a Balanites tree.

These goats seem to prefer the Indigofera plant.

These goats seem to prefer the Indigofera plant.

These animals are hungry. Page, Jayde, and Linda get a snack.

These animals are hungry. Page, Jayde, and Linda get a late morning snack.

Heading back to TBI for lunch.

Heading back to TBI for lunch.

Why did we look at modern animals and plants if this is a paleontology and paleoecology class?

PART 3- Stable Isotopes

On Monday, we were treated with a guest lecture by Isotope Geochemist, Dr. Thure Cerling, from the University of Utah. In addition to conducting stable isotope research on every continent,  Dr. Cerling has worked in the Turkana Basin for 40+ years!

In his first lecture, Dr. Cerling discussed his isotope research on hair and how this can indicate the type of foods in the diet of a horse, elephant, and human.

Dr. Cerling’s lecture on HAIR

Dr. Cerling’s lecture on HAIR

Like modern hair, fossil tooth enamel can also reveal the diet of various animals. Combine this information with animal teeth research by Dr. Fortelius, stable isotope record of ancient soil carbonates by Dr. Cerling, and the marine record of climate and this allows us to determine the paleoecology of an area.

Figure 2 from Cerling, T. E., Levin, N. E., and Passey, B. H. (2011) Stable Isotope Ecology in the Omo-Turkana Basin. Evolutionary Anthropology, v. 20, p.228-237

Figure 2 from Cerling, T. E., Levin, N. E., and Passey, B. H. (2011) Stable Isotope Ecology in the Omo-Turkana Basin. Evolutionary Anthropology, v. 20, p.228-237

By | 2017-01-04T18:04:49+00:00 February 11th, 2015|Field Schools, Spring 2015|Comments Off on What did they eat?

About the Author:

Hi I'm Linda. I'm the Resident Academic Director for the Origins Field School. In addition, I'm a geologist. I have been working in the Turkana Basin since 2011 and am interested in reconstructing the past landscape on which our ancestors evolved.