Barium distributions in teeth reveal early-life dietary transitions in primates

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Journal Article
Nature, 2013, 498 pp. 216 - 219
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Early-life dietary transitions reflect fundamental aspects of primate evolution and are important determinants of health in contemporary human populations1, 2. Weaning is critical to developmental and reproductive rates; early weaning can have detrimental health effects but enables shorter inter-birth intervals, which influences population growth3. Uncovering early-life dietary history in fossils is hampered by the absence of prospectively validated biomarkers that are not modified during fossilization4. Here we show that large dietary shifts in early life manifest as compositional variations in dental tissues. Teeth from human children and captive macaques, with prospectively recorded diet histories, demonstrate that barium (Ba) distributions accurately reflect dietary transitions from the introduction of mothers milk through the weaning process. We also document dietary transitions in a Middle Palaeolithic juvenile Neanderthal, which shows a pattern of exclusive breastfeeding for seven months, followed by seven months of supplementation.
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