DS10 - Défi des autres savoirs

DIETary Strategies and their Changes Recorded by Ancient Teeth: Considering the Hominin Evolutionary Sequence – DIET-Scratches

Submission summary

The evolution of hominins in the Old World over the last 7 million years was influenced by changes in climate. In point of fact the climate is what shapes spatial and temporal variations in the environment and therefore affects food resources. To assess how global climate changes as well as regional geomorphological scale context have impacted human evolution requires us to investigate the ecology of hominins.

Animal species interact the most with their environment when feeding. Tracking the diet of a given species is therefore a critical challenge. The main basis for dietary interpretations has traditionally been dental morphology. Based on functional interpretations paleontologists identify plausible gross feeding habits. However, the thick molar enamel of the robust hominin Paranthropus can be equally interpreted as an adaptation to crack hard seeds or as an adaptation to compensate tooth wear due to tough silica-bearing plants. Subsequent interpretations regarding the effects of climate changes on human evolution cannot even begin if these questions remain unresolved.

Besides, the role of fallback foods, the food items consumed when preferred foods are not available anymore, might be ones of the key ecological parameters that reduce the niche overlapping. Indeed, when preferred foods are getting rarer, a species may either stay on its home range by foraging on new items, or may enlarge its spectrum of habitats. How to detect such ecological behavior in the fossil records? To elucidate this will give answer to decipher the roles of preferred and fallback foods in the ecological partitioning among hominins and the evolutionary mechanisms that favor selection of thick enamel molars. The DIET-Scratches project will attempt to resolve these questions in testing four “fallback food hypotheses” through a unique controlled food experiment on 180 pigs certified by a Ethic committee and the use of different dietary proxies:

1. FBF hypothesis # 1 will test the hypothesis that early hominins foraged on tough and silica-bearing vegetation by testing the effects on dental tissues of a soft diet complemented with different minor to moderate proportions of tough plants for 4 months long on pigs.

2. FBF hypothesis # 2 will test the hypothesis that early hominins foraged on hard food items by testing the effects on dental tissues of a soft diet in complement with different minor to moderate proportions of hard seeds for 4 months long on pigs.

3. FBF hypothesis # 3 will test the hypothesis that early hominins foraged on C4 vegetation by testing the effects on dental tissues of a C3 diet in complement with different minor to moderate proportions of C4 plants for 7 months long on pigs.

4. FBF hypothesis # 4 will test the hypothesis that early hominins foraged on animal matter by testing the effects on dental tissues of a vegetal diet in complement with different minor to moderate proportions of animal (mammal and insect) matter for 7 months long on pigs.


The DIET-Scratches project has for ambition to investigate the dietary habits of early hominins from the Omo valley in Ethiopia through the prisms of these controlled food experiments on pigs. The chrono-stratigraphically well-constrained fossil record in Omo of hominins belonging to Homo, Australopithecus and Paranthropus, of 110 other mammalian genera, as well as the human behavior record witnessed by prehistoric artefacts permits the study of hypotheses and cycles in human evolution as it relates to climatic and environmental changes. We have access to all relevant fossil material and in particular material unearthed in the Omo valley in Ethiopia through the fieldwork and study projects in which several members of the Partner-1 team are highly involved.

Project coordination

Gildas Merceron (Institut de Paléoprimatologie, Paléontologie Humaine : Evolution et Paléoenvirennements)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

IPHEP Institut de Paléoprimatologie, Paléontologie Humaine : Evolution et Paléoenvirennements
UE GENESI Génétique, Expérimentation et Système Innovants

Help of the ANR 343,513 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2017 - 48 Months

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