This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Human Ancestors Ate Bark—Food in Teeth Hints at Chimplike Origins

The skull of a young male Australopithecus sediba rests near the spot in Africa where he died. Photograph by Brent Stirton, National Geographic

Chew on this: Bits of food stuck in the two-million-year-old teeth of a human ancestor suggest some of our forebears ate tree bark, a new study says.

A first ever find for early human ancestors, the bark evidence hints at a woodsier, more chimplike lifestyle for the Australopithecus sediba species. Other so-called hominins alive at the time are thought to have dined mostly on savanna grasses.

A. sediba was identified from stunningly preserved fossils of a female and a young male discovered in a South African cave in 2008 by scientists led by paleoanthropologist and National Geographic Society grantee Lee Berger.

"We think these two individuals fell down a sinkhole ... and were quickly covered in very fine-grained sediment that created an environment of very little oxygen," explained Amanda Henry, lead author of the new study.

"So there wasn't a lot whole lot of bacteria or decomposition, and there certainly wasn't any interaction with the air," said Henry, a paleobiologist at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

That airless entombment resulted in a rare state of preservation—to the point that even microscopic, fossilized particles of plant tissue remain trapped in dental plaque.

By comparing isotopes and other properties of the ancient particles, called phytoliths, with modern examples, the team was able to identify which plant parts individual specks came from—revealing a diet that included fruit, leaves, and bark.

In some cases the researchers could even pinpoint the type of plant.

For example, "we had a palm [tree] phytolith," Henry said. "We weren't able to tell whether it came from the fruit or the leaf or another part of the palm, but we could definitely identify that it came from that family of plants."

Read more



Planet of the apes

Stephen Cave - Financial Times Comments

What we really know about our evolutionary past – and what we don’t


- - Ancestors Trail Walk Comments

WALK DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE ~ 26 AUGUST 2012 - event begins on Saturday 25 August

Astrophysicists simulate 14 billion...

Liat Clark - Comments

Astrophysicists simulate 14 billion years of cosmic evolution in high resolution

Study casts doubt on human-Neanderthal...

Alok Jha - The Guardian Comments

Cambridge scientists claim DNA overlap between Neanderthals and modern humans is a remnant of a common ancestor

Why do organisms build tissues they...

- - Science Blog Comments

Why, after millions of years of evolution, do organisms build structures that seemingly serve no purpose?

New flat-faced human species possibly...

Charles Choi - CBS News Comments

Four decades ago, in 1972, the Koobi Fora Research Project discovered the enigmatic fossilized skull known as KNM-ER 1470 which ignited a now long-standing debate about how many different species of early Homos existed.



Gorilla Youngsters Seen Dismantling...

Ker Than - National Geographic News Comments

After a poacher's snare had killed one of their own, two young mountain gorillas worked together Tuesday to find and destroy traps in their Rwandan forest home

Elephants Took 24 Million Generations...

Ker Than - National Geographic News 15 Comments

Large mammals such as the black rhino (pictured) take longer to evolve than do small mammals.

Why Does Evolution Allow Some People to...

Ker Than - National Geographic News 33 Comments

What Created Earth's Oceans? Comet...

Ker Than - National Geographic News 6 Comments

Densest Matter Created in Big-Bang...

Ker Than - National Geographic News 40 Comments

"Besides black holes, there's nothing denser" we've seen, physicist says.



Please Login to RDFRS to Comment

Sign in to RDF

blog comments powered by Disqus