In Human Evolution this week, we discussed how animals with different diets will have coinciding differences in their teeth morphology as well as in other cranial areas, such as the zygomatic and mandible. Similar dietary morphology patterns are observed in hominins as well, which can tell us a lot about both the environment they were living in and the types of food they were eating. Though it is not entirely conclusive, such investigations can help paint a broad picture of how these early ancestors of ours may have lived.
To better understand these ideas, we took to the lab! Using a variety of tools and substrates, we emulated the different chewing mechanisms and diets of hominins. The tools served as models for the types of teeth, while the size differences helped emphasize the varying amount of force needed to process distinct food types. The tools each group used were pliers, scissors, mortar and pestles, and meat tenderizers; there were two sizes for each tool, the smaller size imposing a force limitation. Each group had a different substrate: collard greens, tomatoes, carrots, nuts, ginger, and potatoes. These were used to represent the types of food animals in the wild may eat, ranging from soft and fleshy, to tough and fibrous, and to a harder exterior (as in a nut-shell).