Megadontia, striae periodicity and patterns of enamel secretion in Plio-Pleistocene fossil hominins

Rodrigo Lacruz, M. Christopher Dean, Fernando Ramirez-rozzi, Timothy Bromage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Early hominins formed large and thick-enamelled cheek-teeth within relatively short growth periods as compared with modern humans. To understand better the developmental basis of this process, we measured daily enamel increments, or cross striations, in 17 molars of Plio-Pleistocene hominins representing seven different species, including specimens attributed to early Homo. Our results show considerable variation across species, although all specimens conformed to the known pattern characterised by greater values in outer than inner enamel, and greater cuspal than cervical values. We then compared our results with the megadontia index, which represents tooth size in relation to body mass, for each species to assess the effect of daily growth rates on tooth size. Our results indicate that larger toothed (megadont) taxa display higher rates or faster forming enamel than smaller toothed hominins. By forming enamel quickly, large tooth crowns were able to develop within the constraints of shorter growth periods. Besides daily increments, many animals express long-period markings (striae of Retzius) in their enamel. We report periodicity values (number of cross striations between adjacent striae) in 14 new specimens of Australopithecus afarensis, Paranthropus aethiopicus, Paranthropus boisei, Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus, and show that long-period striae express a strong association with male and average male-female body mass. Our results for Plio-Pleistocene hominins show that the biological rhythms that give rise to long-period striae are encompassed within the range of variation known for modern humans, but show a lower mean and modal value of 7 days in australopithecines. In our sample of early Homo, mean and modal periodicity values were 8 days, and therefore similar to modern humans. These new data on daily rates of enamel formation and periodicity provide a better framework to interpret surface manifestations of internal growth markings on fossil hominin tooth crowns. Importantly, our data on early hominin cross striation variation may now contribute towards solving difficult taxonomic diagnoses where much may depend on fragmentary molar remains and enamel structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)148-158
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Volume213
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008

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Keywords

  • Body mass
  • Cross striations
  • Enamel development
  • Megadontia
  • Striae of Retzius

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Anatomy

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