Scratches in the enamel surface of a tooth caused by quartz dust. Image courtesy of Peter Lucas.Dental microwear, the pattern of tiny marks on worn tooth surfaces, is an important basis for understanding the diets of fossil mammals, including those of our own lineage. Members of the Plant Foods in Hominin Dietary Ecology Research group have worked as part of an international multidisciplinary team led by Peter Lucas at Kuwait University to unravel the causes of microwear at the nanoscale level. It turns out that quartz dust is the major culprit that wears away tooth enamel. Silica phytoliths, thought to be a major component of wear, just rub enamel, and thus have a very different effect on its surface. The results suggest a revision of what microwear can tell us about diets, and suggest that environmental factors like droughts and dust storms may have had a large effect on the longevity of teeth. East African hominins may have suffered during dust storms, particularly from particles carried in by seasonal winds from the Arabian peninsula.
The article is available on the Journal of the Royal Society Interface's website:
More information is available on the Max Planck Society's website:
English - http://www.mpg.de/6777444/crystalline-quartz-teeth
German - http://www.mpg.de/6774916/Quarz_Zahnverschleiss