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A chip off the early hominin tooth
Date:9/16/2010

cture mechanics," concerned with the formation of cracks in brittle materials, Prof. Chai's equation takes into account the dimensions of the chip ― its distance from the edge of the tooth ― and from there solves for the bite force required to have made the chip. The maximum force an animal can apply, notes Prof. Chai, relates to the thickness of the enamel and the size of the tooth itself.

"The bigger the tooth, the bigger area for chips to develop, and therefore, the more force the animal can produce," he says. The team surveyed tooth fossils from many types of mammalians, including six hominins, gorillas and chimpanzees.

We are what we eat

A tooth chip is a permanent signature of consumption, says Prof. Chai. His method demonstrates that the probable food sources of a given animal can be determined from a small number of well-preserved teeth. The fossils used for this particular study were widely available at museums. This is an improvement over previous methods, which relied solely on jaw mechanics and required an almost complete skull to determine eating habits.

This moves researchers one step closer towards grasping the dietary habits of early mammalians. Although the study of tooth chips cannot, thus far, reveal exactly what food produced the chip, it allows researchers to determine a range of foods, providing valuable information about the animal's life that other methods tend to miss.


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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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