Sr/Ca and early hominin diets revisited: new data from modern and fossil tooth enamel
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A previous study of strontium/calcium (Sr/Ca) ratios in Paranthropus suggested that it consumed more animal foods than was previously believed. However, that study looked at Sr/Ca in fossil bone, which is known to be highly susceptible to diagenesis. Enamel, in contrast, is resistant to post-mortem alteration making it a more appropriate material for Sr/Ca analysis of Plio-Pleistocene fossils. Yet, we know virtually nothing about Sr/Ca in the enamel of modern African mammals, much less fossil taxa. To address this gap, we studied Sr/Ca in tooth enamel from modern mammals in the greater Kruger National Park, South Africa, as well as fossil fauna from the Sterkfontein Valley. Grazing herbivores have the highest Sr/Ca, followed by browsers and carnivores in both modern and fossil fauna. This similarity in ecological Sr/Ca patterning between modern and fossil fauna shows that diagenesis has not obscured the primary dietary signals. Australopithecus has significantly higher Sr/Ca than Paranthropus, and higher Sr/Ca than fossil papionins, browsers, and carnivores. Paranthropus has lower Sr/Ca than grazers, but its Sr/Ca is higher or equal to that of fossil papionins, browsers, and carnivores. Thus, Sr/Ca for both hominins is relatively high, and provides no direct evidence for omnivory in either taxon. The consumption of underground resources or insects are among the possible explanations for the highly elevated Sr/Ca in Australopithecus.
author list (cited authors)
Sponheimer, M., de Ruiter, D., Lee-Thorp, J., & Späth, A.