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Tales Teeth Tell: Development, Evolution, Behavior

by Tanya M Smith The MIT Press
Pub Date:
09/2018
ISBN:
9780262038713
Format:
Hbk 296 pages
Price:
AU$64.99 NZ$65.21
Product Status: In Stock Now
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What teeth can tell us about human evolution, development, and behavior.

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 behavior 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 book is generously illustrated with original photographs, many in color.

“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 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
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.