Date of Graduation

5-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Anthropology (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Anthropology

Advisor

Peter Ungar

Committee Member

Jerome Rose

Second Committee Member

Joseph Plavcan

Keywords

Australopithecus, Dental, Microwear, Paranthropus, Pitheciid, Primate

Abstract

Dental microwear texture analysis has been refined to a methodology relying upon scanning confocal microscopy for its advantages of repeatability and standardized quantification. A new instrument, the Plu Neox (Sensofar Corp.) confocal profiler recently entered the market, sparking questions among dental anthropologists related to the advantages and efficacy of this new technology, which has better resolution and lighting properties than previously available white-lighted based confocal profilers. This thesis reports on three complementary studies that set out to evaluate the comparability of the Plu Neox to the Plu Standard system and assess its ability to distinguish primates on the basis of their microwear patterning. The first study examines a sample of hominin molars (Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus) for comparison with data previously scanned and analyzed on the University of Arkansas' Plu Standard confocal microscope (Scott et al., 2005). The second study expands the sample of early hominins to determine whether an enlarged sample of A. africanus continues to show significant texture separation from P. robustus. And the third study examines extant primate microwear textures of pitheciids with known dietary differences to determine whether documented food-choice trends are reflected in microwear patterning obtained using the Plu Neox. Examining pitheciine molar facets in the past was not possible because of their small size. The new instrument provides higher resolution (0.11 um with a 150x objective compared to 0.18 um at 100x on the Plu Standard confocal), with a smaller work envelop for a comparable number of sampled points for texture analysis. Results of the first study generally correspond to the original texture analysis of 2005, and the expanded dataset in the second study shows increased variance but the same pattern of differences for A. africanus compared with P. robustus. The third study finds that the Plu Neox is capable of parsing broad diet-related differences in microwear textures among the pitheciids, indicating that the new instrument may become an effective instrument for the quantitative characterization and comparison of dental microwear textures to be utilized in laboratories around the world.

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