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Chew on this: The evolution of human feeding biomechanics
Human skulls are exceptionally odd. In addition to our large and rounded neurocranium, humans are unusual in having a small and posteriorly retracted facial skeleton that is "tucked" beneath the anterior portion of the braincase, giving it flattened appearance in profile. Unlike other primate species, humans lack a projecting snout or rostrum. These changes have been explained, at least in part, by shifts in diet and advancements in food processing techniques (e.g., stone tool use). However, the mechanical consequences of evolutionary changes in human craniofacial form remain poorly understood. In this seminar, I examine feeding biomechanics over nearly 4 million years of hominin evolutionary history using a computer-based engineering technique (finite element analysis) in order to address key questions surrounding the evolution of human diet: Was human facial reduction associated with decreases in structural strength and/or the ability to produce high biting forces? Were the "Nutcracker Man" and other australopiths truly exceptional in their ability to fracture hard foods? To what degree do mechanical performance factors even reflect dietary adaptation?
Dr Justin Ledogar is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Palaeoscience Research Centre, University of New England (UNE). He earned a PhD in biological anthropology from the University at Albany (USA) before commencing at UNE in 2015, where he is using advanced 3D modelling techniques to investigate the evolution of primate feeding mechanics. In particular, his current research seeks to evaluate the role that dietary selective pressures played in shaping the unique cranium of Homo, for which he was recently awarded funding from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. When not contemplating skull evolution, Justin enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring everything the New England Tablelands has to offer.
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