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Ancient Teeth May Give Clues To Understand Human Evolution

Update Date: Feb 29, 2016 12:03 PM EST

Studying ancient teeth might help us in predicting human evolution, which is simpler than believed, according to scientists. It is possible to predict the sizes of teeth missing from human fossils as well as the teeth of our "extinct, close relatives".

In a new study, researchers examined the teeth of humans and fossil hominins. They confirmed that molars, which included wisdom teeth, tend to follow the sizes predicted by "the inhibitory cascade." This guideline shows that the size of one tooth affects the size of a nearby tooth. This is vital to show that human evolution was a lot simpler than believed.

"Teeth can tell us a lot about the lives of our ancestors, and how they evolved over the last seven million years," said Alistair Evans, one of the researchers, in a news release. "What makes modern humans different from our fossil relatives? Paleontologists have worked for decades to interpret these fossils, and looked for new ways to extract more information from teeth."

Both groups-species in genus Homo and australopiths tended to follow the inhibitory cascade, but in varying ways, according to scientists.

"What's really exciting is that we can then use this inhibitory cascade rule to help us predict the size of missing fossil teeth," said Evans. "Sometimes we find only a few teeth in a fossil. With our new insight, we can reliably estimate how big the missing teeth were. The early hominin Ardipithecus is a good example - the second milk molar has never been found, but we can now predict how big it was."

The finding can be a valuable step in placing humans during evolution. It helps us to trace ancient ancestors.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

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