Evolution and Teeth

See how teeth can uncover history.

Evolution’s bite: a story of teeth, diet, and human origins

Ungar, Peter S. Princeton, 2017
236p index, 9780691160535 $27.95, 9781400884759

evolution's bite book cover

This is a wonderful book! Ungar (Univ. of Arkansas) is a world-class researcher on dental evolution (see his Mammal Teeth, CH, Mar’11, 48-3875) who also knows how to write captivatingly for a general reader. The book is hard to put down, blending stories about colleagues with clear explanations of scientific analyses. Teeth are important in tracking evolution because they are covered with enamel (the hardest substance in the body), and their surface features reflect diet and relationships among species. Ungar explains how teeth are used by living animals and how, in turn, they serve as guides to what extinct organisms ate from the “biospheric buffet,” as he refers to the range of foodstuffs available for dietary choice. He then turns to the fossils, in chapters discussing the recovery of early ancestors of humans from Africa dating between three and one million years ago (and African climatic fluctuation over that time period, which led humans to adapt to environmental variation rather than a specific environment or diet), laboratory methods of dietary analysis, and testing hypotheses of human evolution related to diet and environmental pressures. He concludes with a “detour” into the Neolithic (or “agricultural revolution”) of eight to five thousand years ago and the resulting changes in modern human diet.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.
Reviewer: E. Delson, CUNY Herbert H. Lehman College
Subject: Science & Technology – Biology
Choice Issue: Oct 2017