03 May 2011

News that "Nutcracker Man didn't eat nuts" isn't exactly news

Photosimulation montages of "Nutcracker Man's" dental microwear. Reference: Ungar et al. PLoS One 2008. 
Because of a huge jaw and large, flat molars, Paranthrapus boisei was nicknamed Nutcracker Man and thought to have eaten a diet comprised largely of hard nuts and seeds.

But, it turns out, the hominin species who in evolutionary terms has been likened to our great uncle was more likely to have eaten soft fruits, leaves and grass, according to carbon stable isotope data just published in PNAS by Thure Cerling and his team from University of Utah.

See more about Cerling's paper on John Hawks's blog.

A big deal has been made of this new paper and rightly so, but reporters should also note that the findings are a confirmation of what was already supposed based on dental microwear (shown above) almost exactly three years ago.

On 30 April 2008, Peter Ungar and colleagues at University of Arkansas also told us Nutcracker Man didn't eat nuts in a study in PLoS One (and featured by @9brandon in Wired Science here) citing wear and tear on the hominin's teeth that looked nothing like that of what would've been produced by hard foods.

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