Scanning Microscopy


Recent work with modern mammalian teeth has shown that, during an animal's lifetime, microscopic wear patterns are generally laid down in a regular fashion at specific locations on the teeth. These regularities make it possible to distinguish real dental microwear (resulting from behaviors during life) from artifacts of preservation and preparation (postmortem wear) on fossil teeth. The size, shape, location, and orientation of microscopic wear features can all aid in making such distinctions.

Several types of postmortem wear are identifiable on fossil teeth. Since some of these effects are intimately tied to the taphonomic history of the fossil, some postmortem wear will vary significantly within and between paleontological sites. Moreover, certain forms of postmortem wear will undoubtedly pose problems for microwear interpretations involving fragments of teeth. Still, it is usually possible to distinguish postmortem wear from real dental microwear in complete specimens. If there is any doubt about such distinctions, it is best to discard the specimen from the analysis.

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