Functional morphology of tooth roots in fossil hominids
Central to this topic is how root form, attachment area, volume and number are related to differences in taxonomy, diet, tooth use, the crown and jaw morphology in extant and fossil human and non-human primate species. This research uses microtomographic imaging and 3D image processing tools to virtually extract teeth from the jaws and quantify tooth root morphology. We have recently shown that molar root form can be used to distinguish between taxonomic groups among fossil hominids and that this may be related to differences in chewing function (Kupczik & Hublin, 2010). A current PhD project (Adeline Le Cabec) is also concerned with the root morphology of the anterior dentition in Neanderthals.
Molar tooth roots and exposed root canals in modern humans (left) and Neanderthals (right).
Tooth root morphology and feeding ecology in carnivores
My research interest in hominid tooth root morphology and feeding ecology also extends to other mammalian groups such as the carnivores. The carnivores form one of the most diverse mammalian taxa in terms of their craniodental morphology and feeding adaptations and are thus an ideal model to compare with primates (Kupczik & Dean, 2008). By using CT scanning and 3D reconstructions of the dentitions of several carnivore species, we have been able to demonstrate that tooth root surface area is a suitable indicator for chewing force potentials and thus allows for making inferences of dietary ecology (Kupczik & Stynder, submitted). These findings serve as a proof of concept for further studies on fossil species including hominins where ecological or biomechanical data are not always readily available.
Structure-function relationships in tooth morphology
This project addresses the fundamental question as to the adaptive and functional significance of variations in tooth structures such as those observed in the crown and root morphologies of fossil hominins. In collaboration with Prof. Steve Weiner and Dr. Netta Lev-Tov-Chattah of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot we investigate tooth function and deformation in anterior and postcanine teeth of extant primate species through use of the optical measurement technique Electronic Speckle Pattern Interferometry (ESPI). The results of these studies will be used to develop and validate finite element analysis (FEA) models of dentognathic structures of fossil hominins to explore the relationships between the tooth morphology, diet and feeding mechanisms.
See Lev-Tov Chattah et al. (2011) for further details.
Morphometrics of tooth and jaw morphology
The objective of this project is to develop an understanding of the variation in tooth and jaw morphology in human fossils and to investigate the spatial, functional and developmental relationship between tooth form and jaw morphology. This research uses microtomographic imaging and morphometric methods.
See also the PhD project by Melanie Bäuchle.
Masticatory loading and bone adaptation in skeletal structures
This research aspect is particularly relevant to the large variation of craniofacial morphology observed in the fossil human record. There is continuing debate as to the adaptive significance of morphological features such as the supraorbital browridges, facial buttresses and the paranasal sinuses and their underlying basis during the growth and development of bony structures. This research is conducted in collaboration with Paul O’Higgins (Hull York Medical School, University of York) and Michael Fagan (University of Hull) and makes use of experimental strain analysis and FEA.
Finite element analysis of skull growth in macaques