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Our teeth have intriguing stories to tell. These sophisticated time machines record growth, diet, and evolutionary history as clearly as tree rings map a redwood's lifespan. Each day of childhood is etched into tooth crowns and roots – capturing birth, nursing history, environmental clues, and illnesses. The study of ancient, fossilized teeth sheds light on how our ancestors grew up, how we evolved, and how prehistoric cultural transitions continue to affect humans today. In The Tales Teeth Tell, biological anthropologist Tanya Smith offers an engaging and surprising look at what teeth tell us about the evolution of primates – including our own uniqueness.
Humans' impressive set of varied teeth provides a multipurpose toolkit honed by the diet choices of our mammalian ancestors. Fossil teeth, highly resilient because of their substantial mineral content, are all that is left of some long-extinct species. Smith explains how researchers employ painstaking techniques to coax microscopic secrets from these enigmatic remains. Counting tiny daily lines provides a way to estimate age that is more powerful than any other forensic technique. Dental plaque – so carefully removed by dental hygienists today – records our ancestral behaviour and health in the form of fossilized food particles and bacteria, including their DNA. Smith also traces the grisly origins of dentistry, reveals that the urge to pick one's teeth is not unique to humans, and illuminates the age-old pursuit of "dental art". The Tales Teeth Tell is generously illustrated with original photographs, many in colour.
Tanya M. Smith is an Associate Professor in the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. She has held a professorship at Harvard University, and fellowships at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
"The Tales Teeth Tell is an accessible, personal, often funny and occasionally controversial look into the murk of human evolution [...] [the book] is chock full of fascinating science, but it's also the personal story of a woman of science immersed in her work."
– Shelf Awareness
"In a time when people are more interested than ever in where they came from, The Tales Teeth Tell gives readers a way to look beyond a DNA cheek swab for information about their pasts, both recent and deep [...] By the end of her tooth-centric tour through childhood, the distant past, and modern cultures, Smith will have convinced you that your teeth are time machines."
– Massive Science
"The Tales Teeth Tell might make you more impressed by what's in your mouth – or put a smile on your face with its weird facts about primate dentistry and the shrinking grins of modern-day humans. The book is written by an academic and has plenty of notes. But it's accessible to science-minded readers."
– Washington Post
"Teeth are important to our lives and well-being, but we tend to take them for granted. Tanya Smith's beautifully illustrated book clearly explains all the fascinating and mostly unappreciated details of our teeth, from the first tiny germ to the full-grown adult tooth. An unexpectedly engrossing and informative read!"
– Meave Leakey, Professor, Stony Brook University and Turkana Basin Institute
"Who would have thought teeth had so much to recount? In her absorbing and authoritative The Tales Teeth Tell Tanya Smith lucidly explains the evolutionary, functional, developmental, and pathological records encapsulated in the dentition. Along the way, she constructs an unconventional and sometimes surprising perspective on who we human beings are, and where we came from."
– Ian Tattersall, author of The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack: And Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution
"Tanya Smith's masterful overview of teeth blends personal narrative with cutting-edge science. Skillfully written and illustrated, her account is accessible and informative, the best available introduction to how and why our teeth reveal so much about our biology."
– Tim D. White, Professor of Integrative Biology and Director of the Human Evolution Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley