Evidence for dietary change but not landscape use in South African early hominins

Nature. 2012 Sep 27;489(7417):558-60. doi: 10.1038/nature11349. Epub 2012 Aug 8.


The dichotomy between early Homo and Paranthropus is justified partly on morphology. In terms of diet, it has been suggested that early Homo was a generalist but that Paranthropus was a specialist. However, this model is challenged and the issue of the resources used by Australopithecus, the presumed common ancestor, is still unclear. Laser ablation profiles of strontium/calcium, barium/calcium and strontium isotope ratios in tooth enamel are a means to decipher intra-individual diet and habitat changes. Here we show that the home range area was of similar size for species of the three hominin genera but that the dietary breadth was much higher in Australopithecus africanus than in Paranthropus robustus and early Homo. We also confirm that P. robustus relied more on plant-based foodstuffs than early Homo. A South African scenario is emerging in which the broad ecological niche of Australopithecus became split, and was then occupied by Paranthropus and early Homo, both consuming a lower diversity of foods than Australopithecus.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Barium / analysis
  • Calcium / analysis
  • Carnivory / physiology*
  • Cattle
  • Dental Enamel / anatomy & histology
  • Dental Enamel / chemistry
  • Diet / history*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fossils
  • Herbivory / physiology*
  • History, Ancient
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology
  • Hominidae / physiology*
  • Humans
  • South Africa
  • Strontium / analysis
  • Tooth / anatomy & histology
  • Tooth / chemistry


  • Barium
  • Calcium
  • Strontium