Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Calcium isotopic patterns in enamel reflect different nursing behaviors among South African early hominins

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Science Advances  28 Aug 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 8, eaax3250
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax3250


Nursing is pivotal in the social and biological evolution of hominins, but to date, early-life behavior among hominin lineages is a matter of debate. The calcium isotopic compositions (δ44/42Ca) of tooth enamel can provide dietary information on this period. Here, we measure the δ44/42Ca values in spatially located microsized regions in tooth enamel of 37 South African hominins to reconstruct early-life dietary-specific variability in Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus robustus, and early Homo. Very low δ44/42Ca values (<−1.4‰), indicative of milk consumption, are measured in early Homo but not in A. africanus and P. robustus. In these latter taxa, transitional or adult nonmilk foods must have been provided in substantial quantities relative to breast milk rapidly after birth. The results suggest that early Homo have continued a predominantly breast milk–based nursing period for longer than A. africanus and P. robustus and have consequently more prolonged interbirth interval.

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