State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Australopithecene Dental Calculus

Phytoliths -- mineral particles formed by plants -- found in the teeth of one of our ancient ancestors.Photo: AG Henry, Nature, 2012.
Phytoliths — mineral particles formed by plants — found in the teeth of one of our ancient ancestors. Photo: AG Henry, Nature, 2012.

Across a mixed landscape, Au. sediba plods
Sometimes on two feet, and sometimes on four,
Munching on fruits and leguminous pods,
Nuts and some seeds … C3 foods galore!
They did have a choice (so coprolites hint);
Lush grasses, fat grazers were also around,
But in these old ancestors (destined for flint?)
New clues, new stories have just now been found.
With lasers and microscopes, old dental plaque —
Tiny, stuck phytoliths show a rich diet!
Scratched-up enamel, it all brings us back
To lives of these creatures that have long been quiet.
What wonders are learned from plaque and from feces,
History bound in compounds beneath!
So, we should say to that wonderful species:
Thanks for not brushing your teeth!


Further reading:

Palaeoanthropology: The ancestral dinner table, Nature, 2012

The diet of Australopithecus sediba, Amanda G. Henry et al., Nature, 2012

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

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