A team of Spanish paleoanthropologists has reconstructed the diet of Australopithecus anamensis, a hominid that lived in the east of the African continent more than 4 million years ago.
An artist’s reconstruction of Australopithecus anamensis, left, and an image of traces on fossil tooth of Australopithecus anamensis, scale bar is 100 µm (Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt / Ferran Estebaranz et al.)
A. anamensis is a fossil hominid species described in 1995 and considered to be the direct ancestor of A. afarensis, known as Lucy, which lived in the same region half a million years later. The paleoecological reconstructions of the sites with A. anamensis fossil remains are quite similar to those of A. afarensis, and suggest a scene with different habitats, from open forests to thick plant formations, with herbaceous strata and gallery forests.
Traditionally, the reconstruction of the diet of A. anamensis was carried out by means of indirect evidence – specifically, studies of microstructure and enamel thickness, and the dental size and morphology.
In the new study, published in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences, the team analyzed the pattern of microstriation of the post-canine dentition, from microscopic traces that some structural components of plants and other external elements leave in the dental enamel during the chewing of food. It is, therefore, a direct analysis of the result of the diet’s interaction with the teeth.