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Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity [Hardcover]

Peter S. Ungar
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 31, 2010 0801896681 978-0801896682 1

In this unique book, Peter S. Ungar tells the story of mammalian teeth from their origin through their evolution to their current diversity.

Mammal Teeth traces the evolutionary history of teeth, beginning with the very first mineralized vertebrate structures half a billion years ago. Ungar describes how the simple conical tooth of early vertebrates became the molars, incisors, and other forms we see in mammals today. Evolutionary adaptations changed pointy teeth into flatter ones, with specialized shapes designed to complement the corresponding jaw.

Ungar explains tooth structure and function in the context of nutritional needs. The myriad tooth shapes produced by evolution offer different solutions to the fundamental problem of how to squeeze as many nutrients as possible out of foods. The book also highlights Ungar's own path-breaking studies that show how microwear analysis can help us understand ancient diets.

The final part of the book provides an in-depth examination of mammalian teeth today, surveying all orders in the class, family by family. Ungar describes some of the more bizarre teeth, such as tusks, and the mammal diversity that accompanies these morphological wonders.

Mammal Teeth captures the evolution of mammals, including humans, through the prism of dental change. Synthesizing decades of research, Ungar reveals the interconnections among mammal diet, dentition, and evolution. His book is a must-read for paleontologists, mammalogists, and anthropologists.

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Editorial Reviews


Nothing about mammals makes sense except in the light of their teeth! In this impressive, comprehensive volume Peter Ungar explores every aspect of mammalian teeth—their evolutionary origin, histology, development, and fundamental physiological role in fueling a high-energy, endothermic lifestyle. Ungar explains how teeth allow high-resolution tracking of 200 million years of mammalian radiation, thanks to the fortuitous combination of their fossilizability and their relationship to trophic biology. No mammalogist, paleontological or neontological, will want to be without this excellent work.

(Tom S. Kemp, University of Oxford)

Food processing is fundamental to the way animals meet the energy requirements of life. Peter Ungar captures several fundamental aspects of how animals do this—by growing teeth with such exquisitely adapted physical and structural properties and with such a diversity of size and shape! Never has this subject been better captured.

(Christopher Dean, University College London)

A pick for any college-level collection strong in natural history.

(Midwest Book Review)

In this wonderful volume, anthropologist-paleontologist Ungar provides the most complete source available (or imaginable) on the subject... Highly recommended.


Mammal Teeth is a highly valuable contribution to recent literature on the important subject of dental morphology and evolution.

(Matthew J. Ravosa American Midland Naturalist)

A superb reference book for anyone with an interest in the subject... I wholeheartedly recommend the purchase of Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity to anyone with an interest in dental morphology and the teeth of mammals.

(Ian Corfe Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology)

Ungar's book is a superb overview of the field of dental morphology, structured in an easily accessible format. Mammal Teeth is an outstanding and valuable resource for the novice or student starting out in the field, and it can also be used successfully as a reference for professional biologists or odontologists.

(Alistair Evans Bioscience)

An invaluable reference on this fascinating subject for readers at all levels.

(Hans-Dieter Sues Quarterly Review of Biology)

Mammal Teeth is an impressive work, both for its scholarship and clear, often entertaining presentation... Mammal Teeth is a must-have for vertebrate paleontologists, physical anthropologists, and mammalogists interested in morphology, the biomechanics of chewing, and feeding ecology. Students will find Mammal Teeth especially useful as a point-of-entry into the literature on mammalian teeth.

(John P. Hunter Journal of Mammalian Evolution)

About the Author

Peter S. Ungar is Distinguished Professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Arkansas.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801896681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801896682
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #856,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter S. Ungar (born 1963) is an American paleoanthropologist and evolutionary biologist. He is Distinguished Professor and Chairman of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas. Before arriving at Arkansas he taught at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Duke University Medical Center.

Ungar is known primarily for his work on the role of diet in human evolution. He has spent thousands of hours observing wild apes and other primates in the rain forests of Latin America and Southeast Asia, studied fossils from tyrannosaurids to Neandertals, and has developed new techniques for using advanced surface analysis technologies to tease information about diet from tooth shape and patterns of use wear.

Ungar has written or coauthored more than 100 scientific papers on ecology and evolution for books and journals including Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. These have focused on food choices and feeding in living primates, and the role of diet in the evolution of human ancestors and other fossil species. His most recent book, Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution and Diversity was published in 2010, and he edited Evolution of the Human Diet: The Known, the Unknown and the Unknowable and coedited Human Diet: Its Origins and Evolution.

Ungar's work has been featured in hundreds of electronic, print, and broadcast media outlets, and he appeared recently in documentaries on the Discovery Channel, BBC Television, and the Science Channel.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mammal Teeth January 26, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A wonderful piece of work that ties the evolution of mammal teeth together. The author does a masterful job of relating the geographical and environmental changes to the radiation of mammal species. I especially appreciate the topical quotes at the beginning of each chapter.

The references can get tidious within the text, because they are so expansive. The upside of such meticulous research and writing is that the reference section is a gold mine for further information.

Thank you Dr. Unger.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique survey! January 21, 2011
MAMMAL TEETH: ORIGIN, EVOLUTION AND DIVERSITY is a pick for any college-level collection strong in natural history, providing an in-depth survey of the evolutionary history of teeth. Tooth structure, function and changing nutritional requirements are surveyed using the author Peter S. Ungar's own groundbreaking studies on analysis patterns and keys to ancient animal diets. A unique survey!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Survey of tooth diversity in mammals February 13, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There has long been a real need for a comprehensive overview of the diversity of teeth in present-day and extinct mammals. Most of the well-illustrated classic works (including those by Owen and Giebel) on the dentitions of mammals and other vertebrates date from the nineteenth century and are hard to find now. Peter Ungar's new volume finally fills this void in the literature. It is really well written and effectively presents a great amount of information. My only criticism is that many of the illustrations of mammalian dentitions are reproduced at a fairly small scale, making it difficult to see details. This is surprising as the format of the volume could have been utilized for better illustration layout. As anatomy is a very visual science this editorial decision negatively impacts the book's utility.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Frida
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity is simply one of the greatest teaching aid I have come across while teaching a course in mammalogy. It is extremely clear and well written and provides a much needed background (and details) on one of the more important parts of the functional anatomy of mammals.

This is a book I will keep referring to through the unforeseeable future and recommend to anyone studying mammals.
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