Dental microwear texture analysis: technical considerations

Robert S. Scott, Peter S. Ungar, Torbjorn S. Bergstrom, Christopher A. Brown, Benjamin E. Childs, Mark F. Teaford, Alan Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

256 Scopus citations


Dental microwear analysis is commonly used to infer aspects of diet in extinct primates. Conventional methods of microwear analysis have usually been limited to two-dimensional imaging studies using a scanning electron microscope and the identification of apparent individual features. These methods have proved time-consuming and prone to subjectivity and observer error. Here we describe a new methodological approach to microwear: dental microwear texture analysis, based on three-dimensional surface measurements taken using white-light confocal microscopy and scale-sensitive fractal analysis. Surface parameters for complexity, scale of maximum complexity, anisotropy, heterogeneity, and textural fill volume offer repeatable, quantitative characterizations of three-dimensional surfaces, free of observer measurement error. Some results are presented to illustrate how these parameters distinguish extant primates with different diets. In this case, microwear surfaces of Cebus apella and Lophocebus albigena, which consume some harder food items, have higher average values for complexity than do folivores or soft fruit eaters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-349
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Diet
  • Microwear
  • Scale-sensitive fractal analysis
  • Texture
  • White-light confocal microscope

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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