Dental microwear differences between eastern and southern African fossil bovids and hominins

  • Peter S. Ungar Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA
  • Jessica R. Scott Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
  • Christine M. Steininger 1. Evolutionary Studies Institute, School of Geosciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa 2. Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Keywords: grit, diet, habitat, fossil ruminants, tooth wear


Dental microwear has proven to be a valuable tool for reconstructing diets of fossil vertebrates. However, recent studies have suggested that the pattern of microscopic scratches and pits on teeth may be more reflective of environmental grit than of food preferences. Could differences in dental microwear between early hominins, for example, therefore be a result of dust level rather than of diet? We investigated this possibility using a palaeocommunity approach. We compared microwear texture differences between eastern and southern African Hominini, along with Plio-Pleistocene specimens representing two tribes of bovids, Alcelaphini and Antilopini, from the same deposits as the early hominins. If exogenous grit swamps diet signals, we would expect community-wide microwear patterns separating samples by region. Results indicate that each of the three tribes shows a different pattern of variation of microwear textures between eastern and southern Africa. These results imply that differences in microwear reflect diet rather than grit load, and that microwear can provide valuable information not just about environmental dust level, but about food preferences of fossil vertebrates.

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