Susan Coiner-Collier

Advisor: Dr. Robert Scott

I’m interested in the evolution of diet in early hominins.

My current research focuses on the relationship between feeding time and bone density in the jaw. I’m performing high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (HRXCT) on a number of extant primate mandibles, and using this comparative sample to inform what is known about the daily activity budgets of early hominins. Pilot research using a small sample yielded a highly significant correlation between feeding time and bone density: the more time primates spend eating, the denser the bone inside their mandibles becomes.

This project will contribute to the growing body of research on the diets of Australopithecus and Paranthropus. Recent stable isotope analyses have indicated that these hominins were eating large quantities of C4 plant foods -- grasses and sedges -- which is not what we would expect based on facial and dental anatomy. Australopithecines had very large, flat molars, not particularly conducive to processing tough plant foods. In order to consume this diet, it’s possible that australopithecines spent considerable amounts of time chewing. If this is true we would expect to see a morphological signature in the jaw.

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