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Original article: eurekalert.org

Long-held eating habits beliefs debunked

UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO

23-Jul-2021

Long-held eating habits beliefs debunked

New research from the University of Otago debunks a long-held belief about our ancestors’ eating habits.

For more than 60 years, researchers have believed Paranthropus, a close fossil relative of ours which lived about one to three million years ago, evolved massive back teeth to consume hard food items such as seeds and nuts, while our own direct ancestors, the genus Homo, is thought to have evolved smaller teeth due to eating softer food such as cooked food and meats. 

However, after travelling to several large institutes and museums in South Africa, Japan and the United Kingdom and studying tooth fractures in more than 20,000 teeth of fossil and living primate species, Dr Ian Towle, an Otago biological anthropologist, working with Dr Carolina Loch, of the Faculty of Dentistry, says this “neat picture is far more complex than once thought”.

“By individually studying each tooth and recording the position and size of any tooth fractures, we show tooth chipping does not support regular hard food eating in Paranthropus robustus, therefore potentially putting an end to the argument that this group as a whole were hard food eaters,” he says.

Dr Towle says the findings challenge our understanding of dietary and behavioural changes during human evolution.

“The results are surprising, with human fossils so far studied – those in our own genus Homo – showing extremely high rates of tooth fractures, similar to living hard object eating primates, yet Paranthropus show extremely low levels of fracture, similar to primates that eat soft fruits or leaves.

“Although in recent years there has been a slow acceptance that another species of Paranthropus, Paranthropus boisei, found in East Africa, was unlikely to have regularly eaten hard foods, the notion that Paranthropus evolved their large dental apparatus to eat hard foods has persisted. Therefore, this research can be seen as the final nail in the coffin of Paranthropus as hard object feeders.”

The fact that humans show such contrasting chipping patterns is equally significant and will have “knock on” effects for further research, particularly research on dietary changes during human evolution, and why the human dentition has evolved the way it has, he says. 

“The regular tooth fractures in fossil humans may be caused by non-food items, such as grit or stone tools. However, regardless of the cause, these groups were subjected to substantial tooth wear and fractures. So, it raises questions to why our teeth reduced in size, especially compared to groups like Paranthropus.”

Dr Towle’s research will now focus on if our dentition evolved smaller due to other factors to allow other parts of the skull to expand, leading to evolution then favouring other tooth properties to protect it against wear and fracture, instead of increased tooth size. 

“This is something we are investigating now, to see if tooth enamel may have evolved different characteristics among the great apes. Our research as a whole may also have implications for our understanding of oral health, since fossil human samples typically show immaculate dental health.

“Since extreme tooth wear and fractures were the norm, our ancestors likely evolved dental characteristics to not just cope with but actually utilise this dental tissue loss. For example, without substantial tooth wear our dentitions can face all sorts of issues, including impacted wisdom teeth, tooth crowding and even increased susceptibility to cavities.”

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Paranthropus robustus tooth chipping patterns do not support regular hard food mastication, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch, was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Tooth chipping prevalence and pattern in extant primates, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Chipping and wear patterns in extant primate and fossil hominin molars: ‘Functional’ cusps are associated with extensive wear but low levels of fracture, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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The ends of deer leg bones, stored in conditions that simulated how they were kept in a cave in Israel during the Stone Age by ancient humans. Scientists believe the legs were kept for delayed consumption of their marrow.Credit…Ruth Blasco

Sealed for millenniums, Qesem Cave in central Israel is a limestone time capsule of the lives and diets of Paleolithic people from 420,000 to 200,000 years ago. Inside, ancient humans once butchered fresh kills with stone blades and barbecued meat on campfires.

“It was believed that early hominins were consuming everything they could put their hands on immediately, without storing or preserving or keeping things for later,” said Ran Barkai, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

But not every meal was scarfed down right after a hunt. Dr. Barkai and his colleagues have found that the cave’s earliest inhabitants may have also stored animal bones filled with tasty marrow that they feasted on for up to nine weeks after the kill, sort of like a Stone Age canned soup.

The finding may be the earliest example of prehistoric humans saving food for later consumption, and may also offer insight into the abilities of ancient humans to plan for their future needs. The study was published Wednesday in Science Advances.

Dr. Barkai’s team examined cut marks on nearly 82,000 animal fragments from Qesem Cave, most belonging to fallow deer. The researchers noticed unusual, heavy chop marks on the ends of some leg bones known as the metapodials.

The chop marks “make no sense in terms of stripping off the bone, because at this part of the bone there is no meat and very little fat,” Dr. Barkai said.

Usually, stripping the hide from a fresh bone requires minimal force, he said. But the heavy chops indicated that the processing used more force than should have been necessary.

“We had a hypothesis that these unusual chop marks at the end of the meatless bones had to do with the removal of dry skin,” he said. But why were they doing that?

The team concluded that the ancient hominins, who shared features with Homo sapiens and Neanderthals but were probably neither, were removing dry skin on the bones to get to the marrow.

That presented another question: If they were after marrow, why not just remove it from the bone when it was fresh? The researchers hypothesized that the chop marks were an indication that the early humans stored the bones so they could eat the marrow later.

To test their idea, the team collected freshly killed deer leg bones and then stored them for several weeks in conditions similar to those inside the cave. After every week, they would break open a bone and analyze the marrow to see how nutritious it still was.

Every time, a researcher would remove the dried skin using a flint flake and then hammer open the bone with a quartzite tool, similar to what the ancient people would have had used. The researcher wasn’t given instructions on how to open the bone.

The team found that the researcher’s chop marks on the older leg bones with dried skin were similar to what they saw in Qesem Cave.

“It was a surprise when we realized that the same marks were generated experimentally,” said Ruth Blasco, a zooarchaeologist at the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Spain and lead author on the study. “The Qesem hominids have demonstrated very modern behavior in their livelihood strategies.”

Their chemical test showed that after nine weeks, the fat in the bone marrow degraded only a little and was still nutritious.

Jessica Thompson, an archaeologist at Yale University, said the paper was a creative approach to reconstructing a past behavior that is notoriously difficult to identify in the archaeological record.

“Their experimental work does a lot to convince me that some of the bones were not very fresh when they were processed, although it is still not clear how common this behavior was,” Dr. Thompson said.

Briana Pobiner, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, praised the study and said that if this removal of dry skin did leave a unique butchery mark, “it’s now up to us zooarchaeologists to look for these traces in older fossil assemblages to see if we can document a greater antiquity of this food storage behavior.”

As for the marrow, how did it taste? One of the researchers couldn’t resist trying it.

“It is like a bland sausage, without salt, and a little stale,” said Jordi Rosell, an archaeologist at Rovira i Virgili University in Spain. “I can say that its taste was not bad, perhaps a little more rancid in the last weeks, but not bad.”

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What happens when an amateur paleontologist with a love for beer teams up with a microbiologist? Bone beer, or beer made from yeast scraped from a 35-million-year-old whale fossil, to be precise.

The new brew, dubbed Bone Dusters Paleo Ale, is a concoction created by amateur fossil hunter Jason Osborne of Paleo Quest, a nonprofit paleontology and geology advocacy group, and microbiologist Jasper Akerboom of the Lost Rhino Brewing Company in Ashburn, Va.

Like many scientific innovations, Bone Dusters came to Osborne late one night while he was drinking a beer.

Osborne was hunched over his desk, studying ancient whale bones he’d collected on an underwater expedition, when he took a sip and began to ponder how beer has yeast — an organism that transforms sugar into alcohol — and yeast can be found almost anywhere. His gaze shifted from his glass to his fossil.

“I thought, even though this is dead, there’s got to be things living on it,” he tells The Salt.

And an idea began to brew.

Osborne enlisted his friend Akerboom to swab the fossil and a dozen more from the basement drawers of the Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland. Akerboom, a former research specialist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, didn’t think the prehistoric bones could sustain yeast’s appetite.

But in the name of science and great beer, he swabbed away. The results, he said, surprised him. While most fossils failed to create suitable yeast, Akerboom found one that fermented.

What he discovered was a wild yeast subspecies, which the pair named Saccharomyces cerevisiae var protectus, after the yeast’s host, protocetid whale “Eocetus wardii,” an early whale ancestor that Osborne had described in a 2011 paper in the journal BioOne.

The whale was a prehistoric beast that had hind legs, molars and canine-like teeth. Scientists say it may have been amphibious, dwelling on both land and water.

To retrieve the fossils, Osborne went 30 feet down into a Virginia swamp wearing full scuba gear and equipped with a type of crab cage. Down there, the violent water rushed past him like hurricane winds, he says. It was an “extreme sport for science.”

“It’s such a high risk,” Osborne says. “But the yield of return is super awesome.”

In this case, that yield is not just millions-of-years-old fossils, but bone beer.

Akerboom says that the yeast is probably not nearly as old as the fossil it was scraped from, but he believes that it came from the swamp that the bones were found in. And it behaves in mysterious ways.

“The fermentation is so strange. It stops and then continues. That’s something we haven’t seen before, not from our brewing strains,” says Akerboom.
Osborne and Akerboom are not the first to craft a prehistoric brew. In a feat that resembles Jurassic Park, Raul Cano extracted yeast from the stomach of a 45-million-year-old fly entrapped in fossilized amber to create his own beer.

Cano, a microbiologist who now operates Fossil Fuels Brewing Co., raises some skepticism over the origins of the yeast Osborn and Akerboom discovered.

He thinks that the yeast is most likely the product of contamination, whether from the museum or from the people who handled it.

But he praises the team’s accomplishment. “Regardless of whether it came from a whale bone, or someone’s fingernail, I think it’s amazing.”

But only the taste can take this brew from gimmick to classic, he says.

“You drink the first beer because of curiosity,” Cano says. “You drink the second because it’s good, so if people keep drinking it, I’m impressed.”

At the Bone Dusters premiere in late June, scientists and beer geeks alike arrived to taste what Akerboom described as a citrusy, Belgium-style amber. Osborne will donate part of the Paleo Ale proceeds to buy microscopes for underserved schools in Virginia, he says.

“This was an adventure,” says Osborne. “It’s getting people excited about paleontology in a different way,” one prehistoric pint at a time.

As you know, we here at The Salt love our beer, so stay tuned for an upcoming video poem celebrating beer … and the evolutionary saga you can taste in every pint.

Original article:
by NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR
July 15, 2014 4:52 PM ET
NPR.org

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     Topic: I wonder what he ate?

This image shows the skull of Daemonosaurus chauliodus, narrow and relatively deep, measuring 5.5 inches long from the tip of its snout to the back of the skull and has proportionately large eye sockets. The upper jaw has large, forward-slanted front teeth.

Not exactly about food but very interesting and the fossil was found at Ghost Ranch in NewMexico-a very cool place that I would love to go and see. I love all the works of Georgia O’Keeffe.

WASHINGTON — The surprising discovery of a fossil of a sharp-toothed beast that lurked in what is now the western U.S. more than 200 million years ago is filling a gap in dinosaur evolution.

The short snout and slanting front teeth of the find — Daemonosaurus chauliodus — had never before been seen in a Triassic era dinosaur, said Hans-Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Sues and colleagues report the discovery in Wednesday’s edition of the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the museum, said the discovery helps fill the evolutionary gap between the dinosaurs that lived in what is now Argentina and Brazil about 230 million years ago and the later theropods like the famous Tyrannosaurus rex.

Features of the skull and neck of Daemonosaurus indicate it was intermediate between the earliest known predatory dinosaurs from South America and more advanced theropods,” said Sues. “One such feature is the presence of cavities on some of the neck vertebrae related to the structure of the respiratory system.”

Daemonosaurus was discovered at Ghost Ranch, N.M., a well-known fossil site famous for the thousands of fossilized skeletons found there, notably the small dinosaur Coelophysis. Ghost Ranch was more recently the home of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who was known to visit the archaeological digs underway there, Sues noted.

Having found only the head and neck of sharp-toothed Daemonosaurus, the researchers aren’t sure of its exact size but they speculate it would have been near that of a tall dog. Its name is from the Greek words “daimon” meaning evil spirit and “sauros” meaning lizard or reptile. Chauliodus is derived from the Greek word for “buck-toothed” and refers to the species’ big slanted front teeth.

“It looks to be a mean character,” commented paleontologist Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago, who was not part of the research team. “I can’t wait to see if they get any more of the skeleton.”

This fits in quite nicely between the dinosaur groups, Sereno said, even though its face is unlike anything that would have been expected in these early dinosaurs, which tended to have more elongated snouts.

This find shows there is still much to be learned about the early evolution of dinosaurs. “The continued exploration of even well-studied regions like the American Southwest will still yield remarkable new fossil finds,” Sues said.

Original Article:

By Randolph E. Schmid, AP Science Writer

4/14/2011

usa.com

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