The first step of digestion starts in the mouth with saliva and mastication breaking down the food to ease up the work of the stomach. How this process is functioning is depending on some factors including the type of foods and the shape of the jaws and teeth. In this regard, palaeoanthropologists struggled for a long time to estimated the diets of our extinct ancestors by studying these features. However, a new study claims to come up with more details on ancient humans’ eating habits.
According to the researchers, while the varied diets that included meat consumption helped our ancestors develop large brains, those diets deficient in nutrients caused some ancient humans species to go extinct. However, South African hominins’ dietary habits remained a mystery and a topic of many controversies.
By employing high-resolution computed tomography technology, the researchers estimated the primary direction of loading during chewing by studying the orientation of the teeth.
Scientists shed more light on ancient humans’ eating habits
According to the study’s results, Australopithecus africanus presented larger dental roots than both Paranthropus robustus and Paranthropus boisei indicating “increased laterally-directed chewing loads in Australopithecus africanus, while the two Paranthropus species experienced rather vertical loads,” as explained by Kornelius Kupczik of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Paranthropus robustus, however, is the most exciting one among the specimens analyzed in the study. The scientists said this one presents an unusual orientation of the teeth, suggesting a rotational and back-and-forth movement of the mandibula during the mastication. Accordingly, Paranthropus robustus could’ve had a diet based on raw foods, maybe vegetables and plants.
“Perhaps palaeoanthropologists have not always been asking the right questions of the fossil record: rather than focusing on what our extinct cousins ate, we should equally pay attention to how they masticated their foods,” concluded Gabriele Macho, a researcher from the University of Oxford.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.