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J Hum Evol. 2008 Feb;54(2):187-95. Epub 2007 Nov 28.

Three-dimensional primate molar enamel thickness.

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Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany.


Molar enamel thickness has played an important role in the taxonomic, phylogenetic, and dietary assessments of fossil primate teeth for nearly 90 years. Despite the frequency with which enamel thickness is discussed in paleoanthropological discourse, methods used to attain information about enamel thickness are destructive and record information from only a single plane of section. Such semidestructive planar methods limit sample sizes and ignore dimensional data that may be culled from the entire length of a tooth. In light of recently developed techniques to investigate enamel thickness in 3D and the frequent use of enamel thickness in dietary and phylogenetic interpretations of living and fossil primates, the study presented here aims to produce and make available to other researchers a database of 3D enamel thickness measurements of primate molars (n=182 molars). The 3D enamel thickness measurements reported here generally agree with 2D studies. Hominoids show a broad range of relative enamel thicknesses, and cercopithecoids have relatively thicker enamel than ceboids, which in turn have relatively thicker enamel than strepsirrhine primates, on average. Past studies performed using 2D sections appear to have accurately diagnosed the 3D relative enamel thickness condition in great apes and humans: Gorilla has the relatively thinnest enamel, Pan has relatively thinner enamel than Pongo, and Homo has the relatively thickest enamel. Although the data set presented here has some taxonomic gaps, it may serve as a useful reference for researchers investigating enamel thickness in fossil taxa and studies of primate gnathic biology.

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