Early Human Ancestor Didn't Have a Nutcracker Jaw to Bite Hard Foods

First Posted: Feb 08, 2016 10:13 AM EST

What didn't our early human ancestors eat? Scientists have taken a closer look at our human ancestors and have found a bit more about what their diet may have been like.

"Most australopiths had amazing adaptations in their jaws, teeth and faces that allowed them to process foods that were difficult to chew or crack open," said David Strait, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Among other things, they were able to efficiently bite down on foods with very high forces."

The species, Australopithecus sediba, is thought to lie near the ancestry of Homo, which is the group to which our species belong. In this latest study, the researchers took a closer look at this ancient hominin.

In this latest study, the researchers conducted biomechanical testing of a computer-based model of an Australopithecus sediba skull. The model was based on a fossil skull recovered in 2008 from South Africa.

"Humans also have this limitation on biting forcefully and we suspect that early Homo had it as well, yet other australopiths that we have examined are not nearly as limited in this regard," said Justin Ledogar, one of the researchers. "This means that whereas some australopith populations were evolving adaptations to maximize their ability to bit powerfully, others (including A. sediba) were evolving in the opposite direction."

The findings reveal that these ancient species unlikely consumed hard foods. This means that the foods important to A. sediba were probably eaten relatively easily without high forces. In other words, it's unlikely that they consumed nuts or seeds, but fruit is certainly a possibility.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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