The two- and three-dimensional assessment of dental tissues has become routine in human taxonomic studies throughout the years. Nonetheless, most of our knowledge of the variability of the enamel and dentine dimensions of the human evolutionary lineage comes from the study of permanent dentition, and particularly from molars. This leads to a biased view of the variability of these features. Due to their early formation and rapid development, the deciduous teeth allow more simplified inferences regarding the processes involved in the dental tissue development of each group. Therefore, their study could be very valuable in dental palaeohistology. In this research, we have explored the dental tissue proportions of the deciduous canines belonging to some human samples of the Early and Middle Pleistocene. The purpose of this was to discuss the meaning of the similarities and differences observed in their histological pattern, as well as to evaluate the degree of covariance with that observed in the permanent dentition of these populations. Our results show that, although there are some similarities in the dental tissue proportions between the deciduous and permanent canines of the study samples, the two dental classes do not provide a similar or comparable pictures of the dental tissue pattern present in the dentition of fossil hominins. Future works on the dental tissue patterns of the anterior and posterior dentition, including deciduous teeth, of fossil samples, may help to shed light on this hypothesis.
The Inhibitory Cascade Model was proposed by Kavanagh and colleagues (Nature, 449, 427–433 ) after their experimental studies on the dental development of murine rodent species. These authors described an activator–inhibitor mechanism that has been employed to predict evolutionary size patterns of mammalian teeth, including hominins. In the present study, we measured the crown area of the three lower permanent molars (M1, M2, and M3) of a large recent modern human sample of male and female individuals from a collection preserved at the Institute of Anthropology of the University of Coimbra (Portugal). The main aim of the present study is to test if the size molar patterns observed in this human sample fits the Inhibitory Cascade Model. For this purpose, we first measured the crown area in those individuals preserving the complete molar series. Measurements were taken in photographs, using a planimeter and following well-tested techniques used in previous works. We then plot the M3/M1 and M2/M1 size ratios. Our results show that the premise of the Inhibitory Cascade Model, according to which the average of the crown area of M2 is approximately one-third of the sum of the crown area of the three molars, is fulfilled. However, our results also show that the individual values of a significant number of males and females are out of the 95% confidence interval predicted by the Inhibitory Cascade Model in rodents. As a result, the present analyses suggest that neither the sample of males, nor that of females, nor the pooled sample fits the Inhibitory Cascade Model. It is important to notice that, although this model has been successfully tested in a large number of current human populations, to the best of our knowledge this is the first study in which individual data have been obtained in a recent human population rather than using the average of the sample. Our results evince that, at the individual level, some factors not yet known could interfere with this model masking the modulation of the size on the molar series in modern humans. We suggest that the considerable delay in the onset of M3 formation in modern humans could be related to a weakening of the possible activation/inhibition process for this tooth. Finally, and in support of our conclusions, we have checked that the absolute and relative size of M1 and M2 is not related to the M3 agenesis in our sample. In line with other studies in primates, our results do not support the Inhibitory Cascade Model in a recent human sample. Further research is needed to better understand the genetic basis of this mechanism and its relationship to the phenotype. In this way, we may be able to find out which evolutionary changes may be responsible for the deviations observed in many species, including Homo sapiens.
The Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos (SH) site has yielded more than 7.500 human fossil remains belonging to a minimum of 29 individuals. Most of these individuals preserve either the complete mandibular molar series or at least the first (M1) and second (M2) molars. The inhibitory cascade mathematical model was proposed by Kavanagh et al. (Nature, 449, 427–433 ) after their experimental studies on the dental development of murine rodent species. The activator–inhibitor mechanism of this model has shown its ability for predicting evolutionary size patterns of mammalian teeth, including hominins. The main aim of this study is to test whether the size molar patterns observed in the SH hominins fit the inhibitory cascade model. With this purpose, we have measured the crown area of all SH molars in photographs, using a planimeter and following techniques used and well contrasted in previous works. Following one of the premises of the inhibitory cascade model, we expect that the central tooth (M2 in our case) of a triplet would have the average size of the two outer teeth. The absolute difference between the observed and the expected values for the M2s ranges from 0.23 to 8.46 mm2 in the SH sample. In terms of percentage, the difference ranges between 0.25% and 10.34%, although in most cases, it is below 5%. The plot of the estimated M3/M1 and M2/M1 size ratios obtained in the SH hominins occupies a small area of the theoretical developmental morphospace obtained for rodent species. In addition, the majority of the values are placed near the theoretical line which defines the relationship predicted by the inhibitory cascade model in these mammals. The values of the slope and intercept of the reduced major regression obtained for the SH individuals do not differ significantly from those obtained for rodent species, thus confirming that the size of the molars of the SH hominins fits the inhibitory cascade model. We discuss these results in terms of dental development. Despite the promising results in the SH sample, we draw the attention to the fact that most Early Pleistocene Homo specimens exhibit a pattern (M1 < M2 > M3), which is outside the expected theoretical morphospace predicted by the inhibitory cascade model. The shift from the M1 < M2 < M3 size relationship observed in early hominins (including H. habilis) to the M1 > M2 > M3 size relationship, which is predominant in modern humans, includes sequences that depart from predictions of the inhibitory cascade model. Additional studies are required to understand these deviations.