This study presents a new, reliable method of dental microwear analysis, which is applied to one of the largest published primate databases and to a Miocene hominoid, Ouranopithecus macedoniensis. Phase I and phase II molar facets were considered. A strict protocol during the molding and casting steps enabled the capture of sharp photographs using light stereomicroscopy. A semi-automatic method allows the quantification of the microwear features on digitized photographs.
Inter-specific analysis on extant primates enabled recognition of three clusters. Primates feeding on soft fruits and leaves and having a low incidence of pitting on molar facets constitute the first cluster. A second group composed of the three sub-species of Papio, differs from the others by a high incidence of pitting and scratching on both molar facets. This is related to the consumption of abrasive graminoids and hard items. Pan troglodytes troglodytes and Pongo pygmaeus have an intermediate microwear pattern and constitute a third group. Ouranopithecus macedoniensis is close in dental microwear pattern to the three sub-species of Papio. This suggests the importance of the consumption of hard and abrasive items. Intra-specific analysis of dental microwear variations within a population of Pongo pygmaeus reveals no significant differences related to sex and molar-wear stage. According to these results, this alternative method appears to be repeatable, and therefore reliable, for paleodiet characterization of fossil primates.