University of Cambridge > > Biological Anthropology Seminar Series > Deciphering the enamel and dental development in hominins. The importance of the Atapuerca dental remains

Deciphering the enamel and dental development in hominins. The importance of the Atapuerca dental remains

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From the beginning of human evolutionary studies, there has been much debate concerning the development of hominins. The age at death of the nicknamed “Taung child”, published in 1925 as the type specimen of Australopithecus africanus, was estimated using modern human standards. Since the Taung child dead occurred just when the permanent first molar was erupting, the authors assumed that this individual was six years. In 1926 Bolk suggested the possibility that the Taung child had a development similar to that of the extant apes. Therefore, she/he could have dead at the age of three. Fortunately, the precise knowledge of the enamel histology that emerged in the midpart of the 80’s, allowed scientists to break this vicious circle and directly calculate enamel formation times and age at deaths.

Understanding how enamel is histologically formed, as well as the new techniques that are being gradually applied in dental histology, as computerized microtomography, synchrotron, specific confocal and scanning electron microscopes, statistical procedures… are helping us to broaden our knowledge and comprehension of how our ancestors were biologically enlarging and modifying the pattern of their ontogenetic trajectories by the study of dental development.

The Sierra de Atapuerca archaeo-palaeontological sites become relevant in this debate because they have provided a large collection of teeth belonging to all human species who settled Europe from 1.5 million years ago until present. This time period is particularly important, since dental evidence is very scarce, at least until the emergence of so-called classical Neandertals about 200,000 years ago.

This talk is part of the Biological Anthropology Seminar Series series.

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