Pygmy hunter-gatherers from Central Africa have shared a network of socioeconomic interactions with non-Pygmy Bantu speakers since agropastoral lifestyle spread across sub-Saharan Africa. Ethnographic studies have reported that their diets differ in consumption of both animal proteins and starch grains. Hunted meat and gathered plant foods, especially underground storage organs (USOs), are dietary staples for pygmies. However, scarce information exists about forager-farmer interaction and the agricultural products used by pygmies. Since the effects of dietary preferences on teeth in modern and past pygmies remain unknown, we explored dietary history through quantitative analysis of buccal microwear on cheek teeth in well-documented Baka pygmies. We then determined if microwear patterns differ among other Pygmy groups (Aka, Mbuti, and Babongo) and between Bantu-speaking farmer and pastoralist populations from past centuries. The buccal dental microwear patterns of Pygmy hunter-gatherers and non-Pygmy Bantu pastoralists show lower scratch densities, indicative of diets more intensively based on nonabrasive foodstuffs, compared with Bantu farmers, who consume larger amounts of grit from stoneground foods. The Baka pygmies showed microwear patterns similar to those of ancient Aka and Mbuti, suggesting that the mechanical properties of their preferred diets have not significantly changed through time. In contrast, Babongo pygmies showed scratch densities and lengths similar to those of the farmers, consistent with sociocultural contacts and genetic factors. Our findings support that buccal microwear patterns predict dietary habits independent of ecological conditions and reflect the abrasive properties of preferred or fallback foods such as USOs, which may have contributed to the dietary specializations of ancient human populations. © 2013 Romero et al.
Romero, A., Ramírez-Rozzi, F. V., De Juan, J., & Pérez-Pérez, A. (2013). Diet-related buccal dental microwear patterns in central african pygmy foragers and bantu-speaking farmer and pastoralist populations. PLoS ONE, 8(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0084804