Broad-scale morpho-functional traits of the mandible suggest no hard food adaptation in the hominin lineage


An on-going debate concerning the dietary adaptations of archaic hominins and early Homo has been fuelled by contradictory inferences obtained using different methodologies. This work presents an extensive comparative sample of 30 extant primate species that was assembled to perform a morpho-functional comparison of these taxa with 12 models corresponding to eight fossil hominin species. Finite Element Analysis and Geometric Morphometrics were employed to analyse chewing biomechanics and mandible morphology to, firstly, establish the variation of this clade, secondly, relate stress and shape variables, and finally, to classify fossil individuals into broad ingesta related hardness categories using a support vector machine algorithm. Our results suggest that some hominins previously assigned as hard food consumers (e.g. the members of the Paranthropus clade) in fact seem to rely more strongly on soft foods, which is consistent with most recent studies using either microwear or stable isotope analyses. By analysing morphometric and stress results in the context of the comparative framework, we conclude that in the hominin clade there were probably no hard-food specialists. Nonetheless, the biomechanical ability to comminute harder items, if required as fallback option, adds to their strategy of increased flexibility.

In Scientific Reports 10, 6793 (2020)
Thomas A. Püschel
Thomas A. Püschel
Postdoctoral researcher

I am a palaeoprimatologist and vertebrate palaeobiologist mainly focused on primate and mammalian evolution. My main interest is to study organismal evolution by reconstructing and comparing the palaeobiology of fossils to their living ecological relatives. In order to do this, I apply a combination of predictive modelling, 3D morphometrics, virtual biomechanical techniques, computational simulations, phylogenetic comparative methods, and fieldwork. I have recently joined the Venditti group, University of Reading, within the framework of the Leverhulme project ‘The evolutionary and biogeographical routes to hominin diversity’. I am also a research affiliate at the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford, where I work together with the Paleo-Primate Project Gorongosa, Mozambique.