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Anterior tooth wear in Pleistocene humans: a new look from a digital perspective

This project aims to advance our understanding on the evolution of human dentition using an innovative approach that integrates sophisticated 3D digital modelling with engineering tools. Neanderthals are our closest extinct human relatives that inhabited Eurasia from about 230,000 to 28,000 years ago. However, their protruding faces, large noses and big anterior teeth, raise questions about why these people look so different than us. Neanderthal anterior teeth are very large (significantly larger than those of modern humans) and have a distinctive morphology characterised by robust “shovel-shaped” crowns. These features are seen as adaptive responses in dissipating heavy mechanical loads resulting from masticatory and non-masticatory activities. However, we still did not understand how Neanderthals used their frontal teeth and if their anterior dentition was adapted to resist high-magnitude bite forces. A novel way to answers these key questions is to use a multidisciplinary approach that will consider different components of the masticatory system such as tooth architecture, dental wear and jaw movements. To accomplish this aim we will use an innovative approach that we have recently developed, combining computer-based dental wear measurements and kinematic simulation of the chewing cycle. The focus of this project is to examine if Neanderthal anterior tooth wear was really unique among humans, and to use advances in dental macrowear studies for state-of-the-art dental arch restorations of important human fossil specimens. In addition, we will use a large comparative modern human sample of populations where ethnographic and archaeological data suggest an extensive use of the anterior teeth as a tool, such as Greenlandic Inuit, Sub-Saharan African and South-East Asian modern hunter-gatherers, Australian Aborigines, and Natufians from the Levant. The project will help to clarify and quantify the impact of heavy masticatory and non-masticatory loads on human dentition, providing essential data to better understand the relationship between wear and tooth architecture during masticatory function. The project will be based on advanced digital techniques that use 3D medical and engineering imaging software that could be potentially used in orthodontics and biology. The methods will have wide potential application in functional morphology, human evolution and biomechanics, involving diverse local and international collaborations with colleagues in biological, engineering, and computing disciplines.
Essential criteria: 
Minimum entry requirements can be found here:
Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology,
Biomedicine Discovery Institute (School of Biomedical Sciences)
Available options 
Time commitment 
Top-up scholarship funding available 
Physical location 
Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Stefano Benazzi
Rachel Sarig

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