Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Nutcracker Man Challenges Human Diet

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Nutcracker Man Challenges Human Diet

Article excerpt

Tiny marks on the teeth of an ancient human ancestor known as the "Nutcracker Man" may upset current evolutionary understanding of early hominid diet. Using high-powered microscopes, researchers looked at rough geometric shapes on the teeth of several Nutcracker Man specimens and determined that their structure alone was not enough to predict diet.

Peter Ungar, professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, contends the findings show evolutionary adaptations for eating may have been based on scarcity rather than on an animal's regular diet. "These findings totally run counter to what people have been saying for the last half a century," says Ungar. "We have to sit back and re-evaluate what we once thought."

Ungar and his colleagues examined the teeth of Paranthropus boisei, an ancient hominin that lived between 2.3 and 1.2 million years ago and is known popularly as the Nutcracker Man because it has the biggest, flattest cheek teeth and the thickest enamel of any known human ancestor.

"Ungar and colleagues' work on P. boisei diet is extremely important," says Joanna Lambert, physical anthropology program director at the National Science Foundation. "Understanding what and how early hominins ate sheds light not only onto the feeding biology of our fossil ancestors, but also onto the very evolution of our own species. …

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