6,500-year-old human jaw bone sheds light on ancient dentistry

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Even our ancestors were not spared by the dreaded trips to a dentist!

Researchers have discovered a 6,500-year-old human jaw bone in Slovenia near Trieste, with a tooth showing traces of beeswax filling.

Evidence of prehistoric dentistry is sparse, so this new specimen may help provide insight into early dental practices.

The team led by Federico Bernardini and Claudio Tuniz of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy, in cooperation with Sincrotrone Trieste and other institutions, found that the beeswax was applied around the time of the individual’s death, but cannot confirm whether it was shortly before or after.

If it was before death, however, they said that it was likely intended to reduce pain and sensitivity from a vertical crack in the enamel and dentin layers of the tooth.

According to Claudio Tuniz, the severe wear of the tooth “is probably also due to its use in non-alimentary activities, possibly such as weaving, generally performed by Neolithic females“.

“This finding is perhaps the most ancient evidence of pre-historic dentistry in Europe and the earliest known direct example of therapeutic-palliative dental filling so far,” Federico Bernardini said in a statement.

The discovery was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

(This article was published on September 20, 2012)
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