Tanya Smith, author of Tales Teeth Tell discusses human evolution, development, and behavior.



teeth have this amazing record locked inside of them when we grow our teeth they're almost like fossils already if an individual died before it stopped forming its teeth we can count each daily line inside the teeth and figure out how old that individual was and in some cases I can be within a week or even a few days of an individual's actual age of death what I'm able to see is the birth line that's the dark line here running in that direction when I use even higher magnification on the microscope I'm able to see daily growth lines because it turns out that the process of being born is a little stressful inside of our growing bodies and that stress is registered inside teeth it's a permanent birth certificate yeah there's a number of ways we can study diet from an individual's teeth one of my research questions is about nursing behavior and there's a special elemental signature of mother's milk inside teeth compared to other non-human primates humans are very unusual because they do nurse their infants for a shorter period of time than say a chimpanzee or an orangutan and the reason that that's important is because that means that mothers can have more babies in the same period of time there's been this theory that in the past hunter-gatherers humans that were not growing their food would have nursed their infants longer so we're actually trying to test this question here at Griffith to really get at where there are fundamental changes with the Agricultural Revolution our diet has changed radically not just with the advent of Agricultural foods but with the Industrial Revolution and the presence of really soft heavily processed foods and we see for example changes in our facial structure teeth are also a marker of stylistic expression we see this amazing record of modifications that we think actually says something about status of individuals in the past we see remarkable examples of even jewel inlays so processes of filing down teeth and making holes we also have evidence of early dental surgery from fifteen fourteen thousand years ago I spent eight years at Harvard University as an associate professor teaching and conducting research there and coming to Australia was this amazing opportunity for me to explore a part of the world I had never been and to get involved in research specifically in the asia-pacific region which is really kind of becoming more central to the story of human origins today you

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