Study Probes Ancient Teeth Found by Meave Leakey’s Turkana Basin Team

Mandibles of A. anamensis (left) from Kenya and A. afarensis from Ethiopia.

Mandibles of A. anamensis (left) from Kenya and A. afarensis from Ethiopia.

New studies show that human ancestors expanded their menu 3.5 million years ago, adding tropical grasses and sedges to an ape-like diet. Papers authored by geochemist Thure Cerling and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focus on teeth from the Turkana Basin in Kenya, where the research team is led by Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey, along with Cerling and geologist Frank Brown of the University of Utah.

Meave Leakey, a research professor in Stony Brook’s Department of Anthropology and TBI, was recently named a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences.

The dietary changes analyzed  set the stage for humans consuming more modern fare: grains, grasses, and meat and dairy from grazing animals.

In four studies of carbon isotopes in fossilized tooth enamel from scores of human ancestors and baboons in Africa from 4 million to 10,000 years ago, researchers found a surprise increase in the consumption of grasses and sedges — plants that resemble grasses and rushes but have stems with triangular cross sections.

The studies are featured and further discussed on the website of the National Science Foundation.



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