Chipped teeth reveal Homo naledi’s gritty diet | Science News

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Nitty-gritty of Homo naledi’s diet revealed in its teeth

Lots of chipped enamel suggests the food of the ancient humanlike species came à la dirt

By
2:00pm, August 24, 2017

CHIPPED OFF  Tooth damage sustained by Homo naledi, an ancient South African humanlike species, resulted from a diet heavy on hard or gritty objects, researchers say. One likely chip culprit: dirt-covered, nutritious underground plants such as tubers.

Give Homo naledi credit for originality. The fossils of this humanlike species previously revealed an unexpectedly peculiar body plan. Now its pockmarked teeth speak to an unusually hard-edged diet.

H. naledi displays a much higher rate of chipped teeth than other members of the human evolutionary family that once occupied the same region of South Africa, say biological anthropologist Ian Towle and colleagues. Dental damage of this kind results from frequent biting and chewing on hard or gritty objects, such as raw tubers dug out of the ground, the scientists report in the September American Journal of Physical Anthropology.  

“A diet containing hard and resistant foods like nuts and seeds, or contaminants such as grit, is most likely for H. naledi,” says Towle, of Liverpool John Moores University in England.

Extensive tooth chipping

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