MOTHERS - MOdelling THe Evolution of the mother-infant RelationshipS

ID Call: ERC-2022-STG ERC Starting Grant


Sapienza's role in the project: Host Institution

Scientific supervisor for Sapienza: Alessia Nava

Department: Oral and Maxillo-Facial Sciences



Project start date: March 1, 2023

Project end date: February 28, 2028


The intimate relationship between mother and infant, since the first moments after conception, contributed to shaping the evolution of our species and its behaviour. The mother-infant nexus changed through time adapting to environmental changes, new subsistence economies and social constraints. 
Yet, how the biocultural transitions across human evolution influenced the mode and time of pregnancy and nursing of human infants is under-investigated. MOTHERS will use recently developed cutting-edge methodologies of trace elemental and isotopic analyses in dental enamel and dentine to identify the change from an exclusive breast milk diet to one that includes non-milk foods and to assess the mother’s diet and well-being. Indeed, dietary behaviour, including that of the mother during pregnancy, deeply affects human growth and development from the earliest phases of ontogenesis and is chemically recorded in developing dental enamel. The goal of MOTHERS is to build consistent interpretative models, based on contemporary infants with controlled dietary and anamnestic history, to reconstruct health, diet, and growth trajectories in early life on an extensive collection of human dental specimens from the Upper Palaeolithic to Neolithic, until urbanization, in Italy and Croatia. Also, the profound chemical differences in dental enamel between breastfed and herbivore milk/formula-fed children will allow the identification of the early use of non-human milk and shed light on herbivore domestication and alloparental care in past human populations.

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