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Am J Phys Anthropol. 1986 Jun;70(2):177-93.

Variations in enamel thickness and structure in East African hominids.


Tooth fragments are an appreciable but neglected proportion of fossil hominid specimens. The present study on 47 naturally fractured enamel surfaces of premolar and molar teeth of Plio-Pleistocene East African hominids measured enamel thickness, slope of incremental lines (striae of Retzius), and the morphology of Hunter Schreger bands (HSBs). Specimens allocated to three categories--"robust" australopithecines (EAFROB), "early Homo" (EAFHOM), and "unknown"--were photographed in ethanol with polarised light. Enamel thickness was measured on the occlusal (OT), cuspal (CT), and lateral (LT) aspects. The angle of intersection of striae of Retzius (D) with the enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) was recorded, together with the degree of curvature and width of Hunter-Schreger bands (HSB). Absolute measurements of enamel thickness were scaled by using two allometry correction factors. Absolute thicknesses of all enamel measurements were significantly greater in the EAFROB (OT 3.1 mm; CT 3.3 mm; LT 2.4 mm) compared with EAFHOM (OT 1.4 mm; CT 1.6 mm; LT 1.6 mm) categories. Correction for size reduces the mean difference between the two taxa, but CT and OT thickness remain significantly different (P less than 0.05). HSBs in EAFROB were relatively straight and narrower (means = 52.8 micron) than in EAFHOM, which are more curved and wider (means = 62.0 micron), suggesting greater enamel prism decussation in early Homo. The slope of striae was less in EAFROB permanent molars (means = 23 degrees) compared with EAFHOM (means = 31 degrees), indicating faster rates of coverage during crown formation in "robust" australopithecines. We conclude that the study of fractured enamel surfaces can contribute to our understanding of the systematic relationships and patterns of enamel growth of early hominids.

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