I was employed at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt (Germany) as PhD student from 1st August 2006 to 31st July 2009, working on occlusion and function of hominid teeth.
I have applied a new and innovative method, called Occlusal Fingerprint Analysis (OFA), for studying dental wear in Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens using three-dimensional virtual models generated thru the surface scanning of teeth. Dental wear is a natural and inevitable process which encodes information about diet, food processing and para-masticatory activities during the lifespan of an individual. The OFA method was therefore used to reconstruct the masticatory movements in Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens. Moreover, the results obtained were compared with those of modern and historic hunter-gatherers with a known diet such as Inuit or Bushmen. Thus, it was possible to interpret the diet of the two Pleistocene hominins. The results have shown that the Neanderthal dental wear is characterized by an ecogeographic variation, suggesting the exploitation of different food sources. In particular, Neanderthals who inhabited relatively warm environments of southern Europe and the Near East have probably exploited a broad variety of food sources (including plant foods), while Neanderthals who inhabited Europe during cold periods relied on low-diversified food sources, based mostly on the consumption of animal proteins.
3D Occlusal Compass. In this figure is illustrated a digital model of a Neanderthal upper molar (left) and a schematic representation of its occlusal compass (right). The colour represent the major directions of horizontal occlusal movements (right) responsable for the creation of the wear facets (left).