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J Hum Evol. 2005 Jun;48(6):575-92. Epub 2005 Apr 8.

Variation in hominoid molar enamel thickness.

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Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences, Stony Brook University, NY 11794-4364, USA.


Enamel thickness has figured prominently in discussions of hominid origins for nearly a century, although little is known about its intra-taxon variation. It has been suggested that enamel thickness increases from first to third molars, perhaps due to varying functional demands or developmental constraints, but this has not been tested with appropriate statistical methods. We quantified enamel cap area (c), dentine area (b), and enamel-dentine junction length (e) in coronal planes of sections through the mesial and distal cusps in 57 permanent molars of Pan and 59 of Pongo, and calculated average (c/e) and relative enamel thickness (([c/e]/ radicalb) * 100). Posteriorly increasing or decreasing trends in each variable and average (AET) and relative enamel thickness (RET) were tested among molars in the same row. Differences between maxillary and mandibular analogues and between mesial and distal sections of the same tooth were also examined. In mesial sections of both genera, enamel cap area significantly increased posteriorly, except in Pan maxillary sections. In distal sections of maxillary teeth, trends of decreasing dentine area were significant in both taxa, possibly due to hypocone reduction. Significant increases in AET and RET posteriorly were found in all comparisons, except for AET in Pongo distal maxillary sections. Several significant differences were found between maxillary and mandibular analogues in both taxa. Relative to their mesial counterparts, distal sections showed increased enamel cap area and/or decreased dentine area, and thus increased AET and RET. This study indicates that when AET and RET are calculated from samples of mixed molars, variability is exaggerated due to the lumping of tooth types. To maximize taxonomic discrimination using enamel thickness, tooth type and section plane should be taken into account. Nonetheless, previous findings that African apes have relatively thinner enamel than Pongo is supported for certain molar positions.

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