Reconstructing the Diet of an Extinct Hominin Taxon: The Role of Extant Primate Models
Smithsonian staff publication
International Journal of Primatology, 33(3): 716-742.
Modern humans represent the only surviving species of an otherwise extinct clade of primates, the hominins. As the closest living relatives to extinct hominins, extant primates are an important source of comparative information for the reconstruction of the diets of extinct hominins. Methods such as comparative and functional morphology, finite element analysis, dental wear, dental topographic analysis, and stable isotope biogeochemistry must be validated and tested within extant populations before they can be applied to extinct taxa. Here we review how these methods have and might be used to reconstruct the diet of a particular extinct hominin, Paranthropus boisei , which has no extant analogue for its highly derived masticatory morphology. Our review emphasizes the potential and limitations of using extant primates as models for the reconstruction of extinct hominin diets. We encourage paleoanthropologists and those who study the feeding behaviors of extant primates to work together to investigate and validate methods for interpreting the diets of all extinct primates, including hominins.