Diet and cultural diversity in Neanderthals and modern humans from dental macrowear analyses

Luca Fiorenza, Stefano Benazzi, Almudena Estalrrich, Ottmar Kullmer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Neanderthals have been traditionally described to be at the very top of the food chain, with a diet consisting almost exclusively of meat. On the other hand, anatomically modern humans (AMH) are thought to be a more flexible species with the exploitation of various food sources. Here we analyze dental macrowear of a large sample of Neanderthal and AMH postcanine teeth from different chronological and geographical areas of Europe and the Near East, applying a well-established method called occlusal fingerprint analysis (OFA). This digital approach is based on the identification and analysis of attrition and abrasive occlusal wear facets (defined as polished homologous areas with well-defined borders) with the aim to reconstruct the jaw movements responsible for their formation. Thus, it enables to obtain information on dietary and non-dietary habits of these populations. Wear facet size and distribution seem to correlate well with diet, showing a large variation within Neanderthals and AMH, which mostly depends on the habitats they inhabited. We found ecomorphological signals distinguishing populations who lived in cold habitats from those who inhabited warm climatic conditions, suggesting an increase in meat consumption at the northern latitudes. In contrast, wear facet inclination is strongly influenced by the environmental abrasiveness accidentally introduced in the mouth through food preparation methods. In addition, we have also identified non-dietary wear on the postcanine dentition in Mediterranean populations that suggests the use of teeth as tools for daily task activities.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDental Wear in Evolutionary and Biocultural Contexts
EditorsChristopher W. Schmidt, James T. Watson
Place of PublicationLondon, UK
PublisherAcademic Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)9780128156001
ISBN (Print)9780128155998
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Dental wear
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Occlusion
  • Paleodiet
  • Para-facets

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