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Evolution's Bite:
A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins
Peter S. Ungar

Hardcover | 2017 | $27.95 | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780691160535
248 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 25 line illus.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400884759 |
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A Q&A with Peter S. Ungar

What teeth can teach us about the evolution of the human species

Whether we realize it or not, we carry in our mouths the legacy of our evolution. Our teeth are like living fossils that can be studied and compared to those of our ancestors to teach us how we became human. In Evolution's Bite, noted paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar brings together for the first time cutting-edge advances in understanding human evolution and climate change with new approaches to uncovering dietary clues from fossil teeth to present a remarkable investigation into the ways that teeth—their shape, chemistry, and wear—reveal how we came to be.

Ungar describes how a tooth's "foodprints"—distinctive patterns of microscopic wear and tear—provide telltale details about what an animal actually ate in the past. These clues, combined with groundbreaking research in paleoclimatology, demonstrate how a changing climate altered the food options available to our ancestors, what Ungar calls the biospheric buffet. When diets change, species change, and Ungar traces how diet and an unpredictable climate determined who among our ancestors was winnowed out and who survived, as well as why we transitioned from the role of forager to farmer. By sifting through the evidence—and the scars on our teeth—Ungar makes the important case for what might or might not be the most natural diet for humans.

Traveling the four corners of the globe and combining scientific breakthroughs with vivid narrative, Evolution's Bite presents a unique dental perspective on our astonishing human development.

Peter S. Ungar is Distinguished Professor and director of the Environmental Dynamics Program at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of Teeth: A Very Short Introduction and Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity and the editor of Evolution of the Human Diet: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


"From the start, Mr. Ungar places the evolutionary changes of teeth within the history of scientific discovery. Researchers and their methods have as much presence as the facts they discovered and the hypotheses they developed, providing readers with a short course on the deep science of dental anatomy."--Brian Switek, Wall Street Journal

"In Evolution’s Bite, palaeoanthropologist Peter Ungar offers a compelling account of how the interaction of teeth, diet and environment has shaped human evolution."--Louise Humphrey, Nature

"Evolution’s Bite combines personal anecdotes from Ungar’s own career with vivid historical accounts of the work of some of the pioneers in the fields of paleoanthropology, primatology, dental functional anatomy, and paleoclimatology. . . . [W]ritten in an easy-to-read style."--K. Christopher Beard, Science

"I dug [Evolution’s Bite]. Sink your teeth into it."--Steve Mirsky, Scientific American

"[A] fascinating exploration of the world of teeth and what they have to teach us about the evolution of modern humans and the environments that shaped that process. . . . Ungar’s book is about as close to a tour de force as a science book is likely to get. The writing is accessible, often witty, and the balance between discussion of what the empirical data has to show us and the history of the field of paleoarchaeology itself creates a narrative of the lives of both the discovered and the discoverers that is hard to put down. . . . I recommend this book with my highest praise."--David Brock, NSTA Recommends

"Ungar has spent his career studying the evolution of teeth. [Evolution’s Bite] blends the results of his work with new research from many other disciplines. . . . An excellent book for those with a serious interest in anthropology."--Library Journal

"Fascinating."--Engineering & Technology

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
1 How Teeth Work 5
2 How Teeth Are Used 34
3 Out of the Garden 60
4 Our Changing World 87
5 Foodprints 110
6 What Made Us Human 140
7 The Neolithic Revolution 169
8 Victims of Our Own Success 198
Notes 209
Index 229

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