New evidence on the diet of the 'Homo antecessor' from Atapuerca
The Homo antecessor, a hominin species that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula around 800,000 years ago, would have a mechanically more demanding diet than other hominin species in Europe and the African continent. This unique pattern, which would be characterized by the consumption of hard and abrasive foods, may be explained by the differences in food processing in a very demanding environment with fluctuations in climate and food resources, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports and led by a team from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona, the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) and the University of Alicante.
|From left to right, the experts Alejandro Pérez-Pérez, Ferran Estebaranz and Laura Martínez, |
from the University of Barcelona [Credit: Universidad de Barcelona]
Foods that leave a mark on the dental enamel
The study is based on the analysis of the buccal microwear pattern of the fossils from Trinchera Elefante and Gran Dolina in the Atapuerca site. The examined microwear features are small marks on the buccal teeth enamel surface , whose density and length depend on the types of chewed food. "The usefulness of this methodology has been proved by the study of the microwear patterns of present populations, both hunter-gatherer and agricultural, showing that different feeding patterns correlate with specific microwear patterns in the vestibular surface of the dental crown," explains Professor Alejandro Pérez-Pérez, professor at the Zoology and Biological Anthropology Unit of theof the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Barcelona.
|The dietary pattern of the Homo antecessor could be related to an environment with significant fluctuations|
in climate and food availability [Credit: Universidad de Barcelona]
Higher striation densities in Homo antecessor
The results of the study show that the teeth of H. antecessor show higher striation densities than the rest of the analyzed species. "Our findings do not allow us to say exactly what foods they ate, since the abrasive materials that cause the marks on the teeth may have different origins, but they do allow us to point out that H. antecessor would have had a diet largely based on hard and abrasive foods, such as plants containing phytoliths (which are silica particles produced by plants that are as hard as enamel), tubers with traces of soil particles, collagen or connective tissue and bone or raw meat," says the researcher.
|According to the new study, the Homo antecessor processed and consumed food differently from|
Lower Pleistocene hominins [Credit: Universidad de Barcelona]
A more primitive lithic industry
This pattern of great abrasiveness, observed on the enamel teeth surfaces in Gran Dolina contrasts with what has been observed in the compared species in the study. "Unlike H. neanderthalensis, which had a more advanced lithic industry (called Mode 3 or Mousterian), the tools that have been found related to Homo antecessor are primitive (Mode 1). These industries would not facilitate food processing, as also suggested by evidence that they used teeth to chew bones. In addition, the lack of evidence of the use of fire in Atapuerca suggests that they would surely eat everything raw, causing more dental wear, including plant foods, meat, tendons or skin.
|Excavation at the Atapuerca site [Credit: IPHES]|
The research contributes significantly to the better understanding of the dietary adaptations of our ancestors and highlights the importance of the ecological and cultural factors that have conditioned our biological evolution.
Source: Universidad de Barcelona [February 27, 2017]