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In this unit we will examine four facets of hominoid denti-tion: the overall structure of jaws and teeth; the pattern oferuption; the characteristics of tooth enamel; and the indica-tions of diet that are to be found in microwear patterns ontooth surfaces.
Basic anatomy
Perhaps the most obvious trend in the structure of the prim-ate jaw (and face) throughout evolution is its shorteningfrom front to back and its deepening from top to bottom,going from the pointed snout of lemurs to the flat face of
Homo sapiens
. Structurally, this change involved the progress-ive tucking of the jaws under the brain case, which steadilyreduced the angle of the lower jaw bone (mandible) until itreached the virtual “L” shape seen in humans. (See figures18.1 and 18.2.) Functionally, the change involved a shiftfrom an “insect trap” in prosimians to a “grinding machine”in hominoids. Grinding efficiency increases as the distance between the pivot of the jaw and the tooth row decreases,with hominins being closest to this position.The primitive dental pattern for anthropoids includes (in ahalf-jaw) two incisors, one canine, three premolars, andthree molars, giving a total of 36 teeth. This pattern is seen inmodern-day New World anthropoids, while Old World
Jaws and teeth are a rich source of information about a species’ sub- sistence and behavior. In hominoids there was an evolutionary trend toward shorter jaws and a deeper face, giving a less snout-like aspect.This trend was particularly exaggerated in hominins. Eruption pat-terns give insight into a species’ life history. And microwear patternson the surface of teeth give strong clues to a species’ diet.
particularly lower jaws
and teeth are by far the mostcommon elements recovered from the fossil record. Thereason is that, compared with much of the rest of the skeleton, jaws and teeth are very dense (and teeth very tough), whichincreases the likelihood that they will survive long enough to become fossilized.Because jaws usually serve as an animal’s principal food-processing machine, the nature of a species’ dentition canyield important clues about its mode of subsistence and behavior. Overall, however, the dental apparatus is evolu-tionarily rather conservative, with dramatic changes rarelyappearing. For instance, human and ape dentition retainsroughly the basic hominoid pattern established more than 20million years ago. Moreover, different species facing similarselection pressures related to their feeding habits may evolvesuperficially similar dental characteristics, as we shall see, forexample, in the matter of enamel thickness. Similar sets of jaws and teeth may therefore arise in species with very differ-ent biological repertoires.
Shorter faceMore robust jawReduced anterior teethLarge cheek teethIncreased brain sizeShorter faceReduced jaw robusticityLarger anterior teethSmaller cheek teethApe
Australopithecus Homo
Figure 18.1
Evolutionary trends indentition:
The transition from ape to
and from
involved some changes that werecontinuous and others that were not. Forinstance, the face became increasinglyshorter throughout hominid evolution,while robusticity of the jaw first increasedand then decreased. The combined increasein cheek tooth size and decrease in anteriortooth size that occurred between apes and
was also reversed with theadvent of
trast, human upper incisors are smaller and more vertical,and, with the small, relatively flat canines, they form a slicingrow with the lower teeth.The single-cusped first premolar of apes is highly charac-teristic of the clade, particularly the lower premolar againstwhich the huge upper canine slides. Ape molar teeth arelarger than the premolars and include high, conical cusps. Inhumans, the two premolars assume the same shape and have become somewhat “molarized.” The molars themselves arelarge and relatively flat, with low, rounded cusps
character-istics that are extremely exaggerated in some of the earlierhominins (see unit 20).The hominin dental package as a whole can therefore beregarded as an extension of a trend toward a more effectivegrinding adaptation. In some of the earliest known hominins
 Ardipithecus ramidus
 Australopithecus anamensis
frommore than 4 million years ago (see unit 19)
the dentitionremains strikingly apelike, with a significant degree of sexualdimorphism. (See figures 18.3 and 18.4.) Within 2 millionyears, however, the canines in several hominin species have become smaller and flattened, looking very much likeincisors (see unit 20).anthropoids possess two premolars (not three), giving thema total of 32 teeth. Overall, the modern ape jaw is ratherrectangular in shape, while the human jaw more closelyresembles a parabola. One of the most striking differences,however, is that apes’ conical and somewhat blade-shapedcanine teeth are very large and project far beyond the level ofthe tooth row; in these animals, males’ canines are substan-tially larger than those found in females, an aspect of sexualdimorphism with significant behavioral consequences (seeunit 13).When an ape closes its jaws, the large canines are accom-modated in gaps (diastemata) in the tooth rows: between theincisor and canine in the upper jaw, and between the canineand first premolar in the lower jaw. As a result of the canines’large size, an ape’s jaw is effectively “locked” when closed,with side-to-side movement being limited. By contrast,human canines
in both males and females
are small and barely extend beyond the level of the tooth row. As a result,the tooth rows have no diastemata, and a side-to-side“milling” motion is possible, which further increases grindingefficiency. (See figure 18.2.) The upper incisors of apes arelarge and spatulalike, which is a frugivore adaptation. In con-
18: Jaws and Teeth
ChimpanzeeHumanDiastemaIncisorsCaninePremolarsMolarsChimpanzeeModern human
Figure 18.2
Jaws and teeth:
Note thelonger jaw and more projecting face in thechimpanzee, the protruding incisors, andlarge canines.
question is, How old is an early hominin jaw in this state?Is it 3 years old or 6 years old? As it happened, the firstaustralopithecine to be discovered
the Taung child,
 Australo- pithecus africanus
(see unit 20)
had just reached this state ofdevelopment.University of Michigan anthropologist Holly Smith ana-lyzed tooth eruption patterns in a series of fossil homininsand concluded that most of the early species were distinctlyapelike. For
Homo erectus
, which lived from 1.9 million untilapproximately 400,000 years ago, her results implied thatearly members of this species showed a pattern that wasintermediate between humanlike and apelike. For instance,in 1985 a remarkably complete skeleton of
Homo erectus
(denoted KNW-WT 15,000) was discovered on the west sideof Lake Turkana, Kenya. The individual was a youth whosesecond molar was in the process of erupting. A humanpattern of development would imply an age of 11 or 12 yearswhen he died, while an ape pattern would give 7 years. Infact, Smith’s analysis suggests that he was probably 9 yearsold. The fully human pattern of dental development did notevolve until in later descendants of
Homo erectus
.Smith’s conclusion has been challenged by Universityof Pennsylvania anthropologist Alan Mann, who a decadeearlier had proposed that all hominins followed the human
Part Four: Hominin Beginnings
Eruption patterns
The pattern of eruption of permanent teeth in modern apesand humans is distinctive, as is its overall timing. Recentlyanthropologists have debated this aspect of hominoid denti-tion, specifically asking how early hominins fit into thispicture. Were they more like humans or more like apes?Although the issue remains to be fully resolved, indicationsare that until rather late in hominin history, dental develop-ment was in many ways rather apelike, particularly in itsoverall timing.The ape tooth eruption pattern is M1 I1 I2 M2 P3 P4 C M3;the corresponding human pattern is M1 I1 I2 P3 C P4 M2 M3.The principal difference, therefore, is that in apes the canineerupts after the second molar, while in humans it precedesthe second molar. Associated with the prolonged period ofinfancy in humans is an elongation of the time over whichthe teeth erupt. The three molars appear at approximately3.3, 6.6, and 10.5 years in apes, whereas the ages are 6, 12,and 18 years in humans.Thus, a human jaw in which the first molar has recentlyerupted indicates that the individual was roughly 6 yearsold. An ape’s jaw with the first molar just erupted wouldindicate an individual a little more than 3 years old. The
 Australopithecus afarensis
(AL-400)BuccalMetaconidProtoconidMetaconidProtoconidModern human
Figure 18.3
Early hominin dentition:
The first premolar in apes is characteristic inhaving one cusp (protoconid); in humans,the tooth has two cusps (the protoconidand metaconid). In apes, the axis of thepremolar in relation to the tooth row ismore acute than in modern humans. In
 Australopithecus afarensis
, an early hominin,the tooth is intermediate in shape betweenhumanlike and apelike, but its axisresembles that seen in apes.

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