Growth and development of the third permanent molar in Paranthropus robustus from Swartkrans, South Africa

Christopher Dean*, Clément Zanolli, Adeline Le Cabec, Mirriam Tawane, Jan Garrevoet, Arnaud Mazurier, Roberto Macchiarelli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Third permanent molars (M3s) are the last tooth to form but have not been used to estimate age at dental maturation in early fossil hominins because direct histological evidence for the timing of their growth has been lacking. We investigated an isolated maxillary M3 (SK 835) from the 1.5 to 1.8-million-year-old (Mya) site of Swartkrans, South Africa, attributed to Paranthropus robustus. Tissue proportions of this specimen were assessed using 3D X-ray micro-tomography. Thin ground sections were used to image daily growth increments in enamel and dentine. Transmitted light microscopy and synchrotron X-ray fluorescence imaging revealed fluctuations in Ca concentration that coincide with daily growth increments. We used regional daily secretion rates and Sr marker-lines to reconstruct tooth growth along the enamel/dentine and then cementum/dentine boundaries. Cumulative growth curves for increasing enamel thickness and tooth height and age-of-attainment estimates for fractional stages of tooth formation differed from those in modern humans. These now provide additional means for assessing late maturation in early hominins. M3 formation took ≥ 7 years in SK 835 and completion of the roots would have occurred between 11 and 14 years of age. Estimated age at dental maturation in this fossil hominin compares well with what is known for living great apes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19053
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


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