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J Hum Evol. 2003 Apr;44(4):497-513.

Non-occlusal dental microwear variability in a sample of Middle and Late Pleistocene human populations from Europe and the Near East.

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Sect. Anthropology, Department on Animal Biology, University of Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain.


Non-occlusal, buccal tooth microwear variability has been studied in 68 fossil humans from Europe and the Near East. The microwear patterns observed suggest that a major shift in human dietary habits and food processing techniques might have taken place in the transition from the Middle to the Late Pleistocene populations. Differences in microwear density, average length, and orientation of striations indicate that Middle Pleistocene humans had more abrasive dietary habits than Late Pleistocene populations. Both dietary and cultural factors might be responsible for the differences observed. In addition, the Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal specimens studied show a highly heterogeneous pattern of microwear when compared to the other samples considered, which is inconsistent with a hypothesis of all Neanderthals having a strictly carnivorous diet. The high density of striations observed in the buccal surfaces of several Neanderthal teeth might be indicative of the inclusion of plant foods in their diet. The buccal microwear variability observed in the Neanderthals is compatible with an overall exploitation of both plant and meat foods on the basis of food availability. A preliminary analysis of the relationship between buccal microwear density and climatic conditions prevailing in Europe during the Late Pleistocene has been attempted. Cold climatic conditions, as indicated by oxygen isotope stage data, seem to be responsible for higher densities of microwear features, whereas warmer periods could correspond to a reduced pattern of scratch density. Such a relationship would be indicative of less abrasive dietary habits, perhaps more meat dependent, during warmer periods.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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