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J Hum Evol. 2008 Jul;55(1):12-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.11.004. Epub 2008 Mar 5.

Dental tissue proportions and enamel thickness in Neandertal and modern human molars.

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


The thickness of dental enamel is often discussed in paleoanthropological literature, particularly with regard to differences in growth, health, and diet between Neandertals and modern humans. Paleoanthropologists employ enamel thickness in paleodietary and taxonomic studies regarding earlier hominins, but variation in enamel thickness within the genus Homo has not been thoroughly explored despite its potential to discriminate species and its relevance to studies of growth and development. Radiographic two-dimensional studies indicate that Neandertal molar enamel is thin relative to the thick enamel of modern humans, although such methods have limited accuracy. Here we show that, measured via accurate high-resolution microtomographic imaging, Neandertal molar enamel is absolutely and relatively thinner than modern human enamel at most molar positions. However, this difference relates to the ratio of coronal dentine volume to total crown volume, rather than the quantity of enamel per se. The absolute volume of Neandertal molar enamel is similar to that of modern humans, but Neandertal enamel is deposited over a larger volume of coronal dentine, resulting in lower average (and relative) enamel thickness values. Sample sizes do not permit rigorous intragroup comparisons, but Neandertal molar tissue proportions evince less variation than the modern human sample. Differences in three- and two-dimensional enamel thickness data describing Neandertal molars may be explained by dimensional reduction. Although molar tissue proportions distinguish Neanderthals from recent Homo sapiens, additional study is necessary to assess trends in tissue proportions in the genus Homo throughout the Pleistocene.

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