Peter S. Ungar of the University of Arkansas also studies dental evidence to understand the evolution of the modern diet. At the AAAS Meeting, he is expected to describe two new methods for analyzing shape and wear patterns on teeth. "Tooth shape reflects diet. Think of carnivorous dinosaurs with their sharp, dagger-like teeth," Ungar explained. "We can infer the diets of fossil primates by comparing the lengths of shearing crests on unworn molars with those of living species with known diets."
Would gorillas and early hominims have approved of the Atkins Diet? Stanford is skeptical, noting that early humans' meat consumption "was limited to game they were able to chase down and kill," whereas modern humans in the developed world "can stock up on nearly limitless amounts of protein."
Renowned paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University, whose lifelong quest to understand our origins included work with the legendary Richard Leakey, said that any sudden, dramatic dietary changes could prove quite challenging for modern humans:
"We've evolved to eat mush!" Wood quipped. "We're a pretty puny bunch, really, with small teeth and small jaws. If we can't get the foods we like, and we have to adapt quickly, we might be in a terrible mess because our teeth and jaws aren't equipped to cope with anything very substantial."
Nonetheless, Stanford said, studying dietary adaptations over time can help us better understand our choices today. "People go to the therapist to understand themselves," he said, repeating a bit of wisdo