The central research topic in the Section Tertiary Mammals and Morphometrics is the evolution and functional morphology of mammalian bone and tooth structures. Analytical investigations on detailed structures of fossil remains help to reconstruct adaptation processes in the masticatory system.
The structures of the enamel, dentin and roots of our ancestor´s teeth have constantly adapted to the foods available during evolution. However, the basic arrangement of the cusps and basins on the tooth surfaces and the associated bite has changed little for many millions of years. The use of variable food sources in different habitats led to differences in tooth wear.
Chewing on our tooth surfaces produces specific patterns of wear that are as unique as our fingerprint. The patterns reveal a lot about our chewing behavior, our food and the environment. Digital tooth models enable the analysis of our occlusal fingerprint.
Palaeoanthropologists and palaeontologists try to understand which food has been masticated and which specific features in the dentition can be used to reconstruct environmental changes and nutritional composition by analysing tooth wear patterns.
Some of the study objects come from the own Senckenberg collections and from current site projects at fossil sites in Africa, Asia and Europe. For many years, members of the Section Tertiary Mammals and Morphometry have been involved in international excavation work.
Visualization and functional analysis of chewing mechanics – new ways to understand mechanical food preparation in primates
3D surface scanning and digital computed tomography now make it possible to visualize and measure complex tooth structures. Thus, evolutionary hypotheses for tooth development can be tested in a completely new way. In the Section’s own 3D laboratory in Frankfurt, undergraduate and graduate students are engaged in several research projects on the analysis of tooth contacts and the internal structure of teeth to compare the variability of tooth shapes and diversity of mammalian types of teeth, including our ancestors.
A specially developed computer method, the Occlusal Fingerprint Analysis (OFA) enables to measure the spatial orientation and location of tooth contacts and wear patterns in opposing crowns. Thus, the individual bite between upper and lower jaw teeth can be precisely determined. Smallest deviations of the tooth positions and the trajectory of occlusal motion can be detected.