Diet and environment 1.2 million years ago revealed through analysis of dental calculus from Europe’s oldest hominin at Sima del Elefante, Spain


Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca, Spain contains one of the earliest hominin fragments yet known in Europe, dating to 1.2 Ma. Dental calculus from a hominin molar was removed, degraded and analysed to recover entrapped remains. Evidence for plant use at this time is very limited and this study has revealed the earliest direct evidence for foods consumed in the genus Homo. This comprises starchy carbohydrates from two plants, including a species of grass from the Triticeae or Bromideae tribe, meat and plant fibres. All food was eaten raw, and there is no evidence for processing of the starch granules which are intact and undamaged. Additional biographical detail includes fragments of non-edible wood found adjacent to an interproximal groove suggesting oral hygiene activities, while plant fibres may be linked to raw material processing. Environmental evidence comprises spores, insect fragments and conifer pollen grains which are consistent with a forested environment.

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Funding was provided by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. (I+D code HAR2012-3537). Funding was provided by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MINECO): grant numbers CGL2015-65387-C3-1 & 3-P, as well as the Junta de Castilla y León. The sample was taken with the collaboration of CENIEH Staff". (I+D code HAR2012-3537).

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Correspondence to Karen Hardy.

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Communicated by: Mary T. Silcox

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Hardy, K., Radini, A., Buckley, S. et al. Diet and environment 1.2 million years ago revealed through analysis of dental calculus from Europe’s oldest hominin at Sima del Elefante, Spain. Sci Nat 104, 2 (2017).

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  • Human evolution
  • Sima del Elefante
  • Atapuerca
  • Dental calculus
  • Diet
  • Microfossils
  • Paleoenvironment