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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.
1 How Teeth Work 5
2 How Teeth Are Used 34
3 Out of the Garden 60
4 Our Changing World 87
5 Foodprints 110
6 What Made Us Human 140
7 The Neolithic Revolution 169
8 Victims of Our Own Success 198
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.
"In Evolution's Bite, palaeoanthropologist Peter Ungar offers a compelling account of how the interaction of teeth, diet and environment has shaped human evolution."
– Louise Humphrey, Nature
"[A] fascinating exploration of the world of teeth and what they have to teach us about the evolution of modern humans and the environments that shaped that process [...] Ungar's book is about as close to a tour de force as a science book is likely to get. The writing is accessible, often witty, and the balance between discussion of what the empirical data has to show us and the history of the field of paleoarchaeology itself creates a narrative of the lives of both the discovered and the discoverers that is hard to put down [...] I recommend this book with my highest praise."
– David Brock, NSTA Recommends
"Ungar has spent his career studying the evolution of teeth. [Evolution's Bite] blends the results of his work with new research from many other disciplines [...] An excellent book for those with a serious interest in anthropology."
– Library Journal
"The story of how we became human is recorded in our teeth. With wit and expertise, Peter Ungar shows us how scientists use clues in ancient teeth to reveal what our ancestors ate, how they looked, and how they adapted to climate change, hunting, cooking, and lousy paleodiets. Anyone who wants to know where we came from and how we ended up with such messed up teeth and jaws should read Evolution's Bite."
– Ann Gibbons, author of The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors
"With grace and clarity, Peter Ungar leads us through the complex world of discovering fossil and modern teeth and the clues they reveal to our evolutionary history. In the process, he teaches us much about the mechanisms of evolution itself. I highly recommend this book not only to those in the field but also to those who want to understand how we know what we know."
– Pat Shipman, author of The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction
"A compelling tale, Evolution's Bite highlights the ways our teeth work and the clues they preserve about our evolutionary origin. Serving as an eloquent guide to fossil teeth, past environments, and archeological finds, Peter Ungar shows how the union of scientific fields shapes the profound story of food, diet, and evolution."
– Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program, Smithsonian Institution
"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