Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Human ancestry: What does dentition have to do with it?

The latest issue of Science provides in-depth analysis and discussion of the fossilized remains of the oldest known human ancestor yet, dubbed Ardipithecus ramidus.

The full suite of scientific papers, plus additional features such as podcasts, is available for free to all those who register.

C. Owen Lovejoy's contribution, "Reexamining Human Origins in Light of Ardipithecus ramidus," puts a great deal of emphasis on the "large, projecting, interlocking, and honing" canines lacking in this ancestor as well as in modern-day humans. (By contrast, such canines are present in all other ape species, and are particularly pronounced in males.) This radical divergence in terms of dentition suggests, according to this expert, that cooperative social structures are fundamental for humankind. Put another way, while human societies still tend toward hierarchy, the size of someone's teeth is not "a big deal."

Perhaps that's why the Canadian government does not guarantee access to dental services as part of healthcare insurance?

Yet dentition aesthetics and overall oral health remain sentinels of social status.

It's just that we tend to prize 'nice teeth' over 'scary' ones...

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