CE Hours: 1

Seq#400 - Distinguished Lecture Series: Evolution's Bite: Using Teeth to Reconstruct Diets of Human Ancestors - Peter S. Ungar

Fossil teeth offer paleontologists and dental anthropologists a bridge to the past. They are the only parts of the digestive system that preserve over deep time and thus give us the best chance of reconstructing the diets of our distant ancestors and other extinct species. This presentation will summarize how we use teeth to infer dietary adaptations and food preferences of past animals. We use two basic categories of evidence: adaptive lines (e.g., tooth size, shape and structure) and “foodprints” — traces of actual feeding behavior (e.g., isotopic composition of enamel and microscopic use wear). Adaptive evidence and foodprints teach us, respectively, something about what our ancestors were capable of eating and what specific individuals in the past actually ate on a daily basis. Combining the two lines of evidence provides the clearest picture to date of food choice in the past and how this relates to our evolution.

The focus of this talk will be on how we characterize and compare functional aspects of tooth shape and patterns of microwear, with special consideration of how teeth work and how they are used by living primates. Examples of what teeth have taught us about the diets of our distant ancestors and near kin will also be given.

Learning Objectives:

  • An introduction to mammalian dental functional morphology and microwear.
  • An understanding of how paleontologists use teeth to reconstruct past diet.
  • An appreciation for the known, unknown, and unknowable of the diets of our distant ancestors.