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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Nov 22;273(1603):2799-808.

Tooth microstructure tracks the pace of human life-history evolution.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.


A number of fundamental milestones define the pace at which animals develop, mature, reproduce and age. These include the length of gestation, the age at weaning and at sexual maturity, the number of offspring produced over a lifetime and the length of life itself. Because a time-scale for dental development can be retrieved from the internal structure of teeth and many of these life-history variables tend to be highly correlated, we can discover more than might be imagined about fossil primates and more, in particular, about fossil hominids and our own evolutionary history. Some insights into the evolutionary processes underlying changes in dental development are emerging from a better understanding of the mechanisms controlling enamel and dentine formation. Our own 18-20-year period of growth and development probably evolved quite recently after ca 17 million years of a more ape-like life-history profile.

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