Teeth tell us what hominins ate and, because of their high genetic component, give information on their origins and affinities—including to modern humans
Keywords: Dental Morphology, Odontometrics, Phenetic and Cladistic Analyses, Africa
Two important fossil relatives of ours’ were recently discovered in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa, with Dr. Lee Berger, University of the Witwatersrand, the lead palaeoanthropologist in both cases. The first, Australopithecus sediba, was recovered from the site of Malapa in 2008. At least two individuals are represented, which date to nearly 2 million years before the present. The second, Homo naledi, with more than 1500 specimens originally recovered in 2014, comes from Rising Star Cave. This species dates between 335-236,000 years ago.
As a dental anthropologist I was involved in the study of both hominins’ teeth, beginning in 2011—with A. sediba, followed in 2014 for H. naledi. Teeth tell us what hominins ate and, because of their high genetic component, give information on their origins and affinities—including to modern humans. Through several studies, we have shown the former species is closely related to another, earlier australopithecine and has much in common with later Homo. Homo naledi appears to have been a dead-end, who showed some ‘modern’ features but also many ancient traits not found in our direct ancestors. Work concerning the phylogenetic relationships of the H. naledi is now being completed here at LJMU, with some novel findings.
Other Projects from Joel D. Irish
Understanding the ‘place’ of Neolithic peoples in Egyptian prehistory through the excavation of a rare Neolithic site in Upper Egypt which includes over 200 burials and multiple villages. This project, which is part of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition, has significantly expanded our understanding of the period