American Association of Physical Anthropologists

Hobbit dentistry, ancient footprints and navigating gibbons in news from the recent physical anthropology meeting

American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting, Minneapolis, April 12–16, 2011

Footprints from the past
Volcanic ash near the shore of a Tanzanian lake preserves a snapshot of two groups of people from around 120,000 years ago. A team led by Kevin Hatala of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., discovered 349 preserved footprints of 34 Stone Age men, women and children. At least 18 tracks, each containing three or more footprints from the same person, head in the same direction and represent a group that walked together, Hatala reported in Minneapolis on April 14. Another six tracks heading in the opposite direction were made by individuals moving at various speeds, from a walk to a run. —Bruce Bower

Hobbit’s contested dentistry
Signs of dental work found in hobbit remains indicate that these finds come from modern people, not a Stone Age Homo species, an anthropologist asserts. Photographs and computerized tomography scans reveal tooth-cavity damage and the remains of a filling substance around one hobbit tooth, and bone healing around an empty tooth socket in the same jaw that probably resulted from intentional tooth extraction, Maciej Henneberg of the University of Adelaide in Australia reported on April 14. Other scientists have said that no signs of dental work appear on hobbit teeth and jaws (SN Online: 3/30/11). —Bruce Bower

Gibbons know the way
Gibbons living in a Thailand forest apparently formulate mental maps of their foraging areas and use the maps to plan direct routes between distant feeding locations. Over 55 days of study, 11 gibbon groups each consisting of about four individuals regularly traveled from one food patch to the next without substantially changing direction, Ulrich Reichard of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale reported on April 15. Gibbons possess sophisticated knowledge of the forest’s spatial layout, not just landmarks, resulting in a formidable sense of direction, Reichard proposed. —Bruce Bower

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