Re: Early diets

Julia T. Lewandowski (
2 May 1994 17:21:43 GMT

The only way researchers can assess the early diets of the
Australopithecines is by examining their craniodental morphology. Based
on tooth size and morphology, it was generally agreed that gracile
australopithecines (A. afarensis and A. africanus) were more omnivorous
than their robust counterparts (A. robustus and A. boisei) whose small
incisors and large molars seemed better adapted to grinding up
vegetable matter. Andy Sillin, a researcher at the University of Cape Town,
however has been analyzing strontium/calcium ratios in the teeth of
australopithecines, and has come up with some interesting results.

I haven't read this for a long time, so the details are a bit fuzzy, but
herbivores and carnivores show differential levels
of strontium and calcium levels in their bones and tooth enamel.
What Andy Sillin found is that the "vegetarian" robust australopithecines
were more omnivorous than previously expected--in one example one
robust specimen was _more_ omnivorous than any other gracile specimen

While this type of analysis doesn't tell us whether the australopithecines
were capable of "running down" prey, it does question the dietary
hypothesis as proposed by J.T. Robinson (I think this is the right
person--does anyone know for sure? I don't have a reference at hand right

I can provide references if anyone is interested. Andy Sillin has
published these findings in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology (sorry,
can't remember what year.)

Julia T. Lewandowski
Department of Anthropology
University of Pennsylvania

Hobbits is practically chickens . . .