Analysis of the teeth of extinct lemurs has revealed fascinating clues about human evolution, a University of Otago study has found.
Lead author Dr Ian Toll, from the Sir John Walsh Institute in the Faculty of Dentistry, said the “surprisingly large” monkey lemur, Australopithecuswith novel anatomical features not found in living lemurs, such as the absence of a “toothed comb” in the front of the mouth for grooming.
“These extinct lemurs were very different from living lemurs. They also shared a striking resemblance to monkeys and apes, including humans,” he said.
The study was published in American Journal of Biological Anthropologydesigned to assess diet Australopithecus The frequency of chipping was compared to that of other primate teeth by analyzing the chipping of 447 teeth.
The results were startling—the shape of the dentition of these extinct lemurs resembled that of baboons; but it showed a pattern of broken teeth similar to fossils of ancient humans such as Neanderthals.
“Australopithecus The pattern of tooth chipping was unlike any extant primate, showing severe fractures on the front teeth, often with many tooth fragments on a single tooth, but very few chippings on the back teeth.
“Similar tooth fracture patterns have been observed in ancient human fossils such as Neanderthals. Typically, in Neanderthals, these fracture patterns are thought to be associated with tool-use behaviour,” Dr Towle said.
The results are consistent with previous studies Australopithecusin particular evidence that their large, strong front teeth may have been used to deal with a diet containing tough foods.
Dr Towle believes the study raises the “intriguing possibility” that stone tools may not necessarily explain the high rate of fractures in Neanderthal teeth.
“Australopithecus showed a similar pattern of tooth fragmentation, but there is no evidence that they were capable or used such tools.
“Studying extinct primates can provide insights not only into their diet and behavior, but also from our own evolutionary history.”
Given the overlap in skull and tooth shapes, and the potential similarities in diet and behavior, it’s perhaps not surprising that Australopithecus When it was first discovered in Madagascar more than 100 years ago, it was thought to be an ape.
“Australopithecus is an outstanding example of convergent evolution, showing striking similarities to monkeys and apes. This species also highlights the extent to which Madagascar lemurs have diversified into various ecological niches. “
Dr Carolina Loch, also from the Sir John Walsh Institute, who supervised Dr Towle as a Postdoctoral Fellow at SJWRI, said the study was another good example of the “breadth and depth of multidisciplinary research” in the School of Dentistry.
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