280 pages, 25 b/w illustrations
Whether we realize it or not, we carry in our mouths the legacy of our evolution. Our teeth are like living fossils that can be studied and compared to those of our ancestors to teach us how we became human. In Evolution's Bite, noted paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar brings together for the first time cutting-edge advances in understanding human evolution and climate change with new approaches to uncovering dietary clues from fossil teeth to present a remarkable investigation into the ways that teeth – their shape, chemistry, and wear – reveal how we came to be.
Ungar describes how a tooth's "foodprints" – distinctive patterns of microscopic wear and tear – provide telltale details about what an animal actually ate in the past. These clues, combined with groundbreaking research in paleoclimatology, demonstrate how a changing climate altered the food options available to our ancestors, what Ungar calls the biospheric buffet. When diets change, species change, and Ungar traces how diet and an unpredictable climate determined who among our ancestors was winnowed out and who survived, as well as why we transitioned from the role of forager to farmer. By sifting through the evidence – and the scars on our teeth – Ungar makes the important case for what might or might not be the most natural diet for humans.
Traveling the four corners of the globe and combining scientific breakthroughs with vivid narrative, Evolution's Bite presents a unique dental perspective on our astonishing human development.
"This impressive book serves as a window into human history through the lens of teeth and diet. Ungar's seamless narrative brings bits of bone and teeth to life, and does so against a vivid backdrop in which paleoanthropologists arrive at their conclusions about why, how, and what we eat. This book is a pleasure to read – Ungar has that rare gift of engaging us through personal insight while simultaneously explaining complex scientific principles."
– Joanna E. Lambert, University of Colorado, Boulder
"Evolution's Bite is not simply about teeth – it brings together evidence from geology, paleontology, biology, climatology, and even materials science in order show how our dynamic relationship with the environment shaped who we are today. An enjoyable read."
– Shara Bailey, New York University
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Peter S. Ungar is Distinguished Professor and director of the Environmental Dynamics Program at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of Teeth: A Very Short Introduction and Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity and the editor of Evolution of the Human Diet: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.