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      The diet of Australopithecus sediba.

      Nature

      Animals, Biological Evolution, Carbon Isotopes, Diet, history, veterinary, Food Preferences, Fossils, Friction, Fruit, History, Ancient, Hominidae, anatomy & histology, physiology, Plant Bark, Plant Leaves, Radiometric Dating, South Africa, Surface Properties, Tooth, Trees, Wood

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          Abstract

          Specimens of Australopithecus sediba from the site of Malapa, South Africa (dating from approximately 2 million years (Myr) ago) present a mix of primitive and derived traits that align the taxon with other Australopithecus species and with early Homo. Although much of the available cranial and postcranial material of Au. sediba has been described, its feeding ecology has not been investigated. Here we present results from the first extraction of plant phytoliths from dental calculus of an early hominin. We also consider stable carbon isotope and dental microwear texture data for Au. sediba in light of new palaeoenvironmental evidence. The two individuals examined consumed an almost exclusive C(3) diet that probably included harder foods, and both dicotyledons (for example, tree leaves, fruits, wood and bark) and monocotyledons (for example, grasses and sedges). Like Ardipithecus ramidus (approximately 4.4 Myr ago) and modern savanna chimpanzees, Au. sediba consumed C(3) foods in preference to widely available C(4) resources. The inferred consumption of C(3) monocotyledons, and wood or bark, increases the known variety of early hominin foods. The overall dietary pattern of these two individuals contrasts with available data for other hominins in the region and elsewhere.

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          Most cited references 23

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          Australopithecus sediba: a new species of Homo-like australopith from South Africa.

          Despite a rich African Plio-Pleistocene hominin fossil record, the ancestry of Homo and its relation to earlier australopithecines remain unresolved. Here we report on two partial skeletons with an age of 1.95 to 1.78 million years. The fossils were encased in cave deposits at the Malapa site in South Africa. The skeletons were found close together and are directly associated with craniodental remains. Together they represent a new species of Australopithecus that is probably descended from Australopithecus africanus. Combined craniodental and postcranial evidence demonstrates that this new species shares more derived features with early Homo than any other australopith species and thus might help reveal the ancestor of that genus.
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            Dental microwear texture analysis shows within-species diet variability in fossil hominins.

            Reconstructing the diets of extinct hominins is essential to understanding the paleobiology and evolutionary history of our lineage. Dental microwear, the study of microscopic tooth-wear resulting from use, provides direct evidence of what an individual ate in the past. Unfortunately, established methods of studying microwear are plagued with low repeatability and high observer error. Here we apply an objective, repeatable approach for studying three-dimensional microwear surface texture to extinct South African hominins. Scanning confocal microscopy together with scale-sensitive fractal analysis are used to characterize the complexity and anisotropy of microwear. Results for living primates show that this approach can distinguish among diets characterized by different fracture properties. When applied to hominins, microwear texture analysis indicates that Australopithecus africanus microwear is more anisotropic, but also more variable in anisotropy than Paranthropus robustus. This latter species has more complex microwear textures, but is also more variable in complexity than A. africanus. This suggests that A. africanus ate more tough foods and P. robustus consumed more hard and brittle items, but that both had variable and overlapping diets.
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              Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium).

              The nature and causes of the disappearance of Neanderthals and their apparent replacement by modern humans are subjects of considerable debate. Many researchers have proposed biologically or technologically mediated dietary differences between the two groups as one of the fundamental causes of Neanderthal disappearance. Some scenarios have focused on the apparent lack of plant foods in Neanderthal diets. Here we report direct evidence for Neanderthal consumption of a variety of plant foods, in the form of phytoliths and starch grains recovered from dental calculus of Neanderthal skeletons from Shanidar Cave, Iraq, and Spy Cave, Belgium. Some of the plants are typical of recent modern human diets, including date palms (Phoenix spp.), legumes, and grass seeds (Triticeae), whereas others are known to be edible but are not heavily used today. Many of the grass seed starches showed damage that is a distinctive marker of cooking. Our results indicate that in both warm eastern Mediterranean and cold northwestern European climates, and across their latitudinal range, Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant foods available in their local environment and transformed them into more easily digestible foodstuffs in part through cooking them, suggesting an overall sophistication in Neanderthal dietary regimes.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                22763449
                10.1038/nature11185

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