Stone Age hunter-gatherers tackled their cavities with a sharp tool and tar

Stone Age dentists didn’t drill and fill cavities. They scraped and coated them.

Two teeth from a person who lived in what’s now northern Italy between 13,000 and 12,740 years ago bear signs of someone having scoured and removed infected soft, inner tissue. The treated area was then covered with bitumen, a sticky, tarlike substance Stone Age folks used to attach stone tools to handles (SN Online: 12/12/08), says a team led by biological anthropologists Gregorio Oxilia and Stefano Benazzi, both of the University of Bologna in Italy.

The find indicates that techniques for removing infected parts of teeth developed thousands of years before carbohydrate-rich farming diets made tooth decay more common, the researchers report online March 27 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Farmers may have used stone tools to drill dental cavities as early as 9,000 years ago (SN: 4/8/06, p. 213).

Oxilia and Benazzi’s team reported in 2015 that a pointed stone tool had apparently been used to remove decayed tissue from a tooth that belonged to a man buried in northern Italy around 14,000 years ago.

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