Evidence of stone-age dentistry reported
and World Science staff
Researchers say they have uncovered evidence of prehistoric trips to the dentist: teeth as old as 9,000 years that show clear signs of having undergone drilling during their owner’s lifetime.
The teeth were unearthed in cemetery in Pakistan of the early Neolithic period, the last part of the Stone Age, wrote the scientists, Roberto Macchiarelli of Université de Poitiers in Poitiers, France, and colleagues.
They reported the finding in the April 6 issue of the research journal Nature.
The anthropologists said they found the objects during excavations at Mehrgarh in the Baluchistan province. Eleven drilled permanent crowns were found, they added, one showing evidence of a complex procedure that involved removing tooth enamel and carving a cavity wall with an extremely fine-tipped tool.
Four teeth show signs of decay associated with the drilled hole, indicating that the intervention may have been therapeutic, they noted. They added that this sort of dental “treatment” continued for about 1,500 years, before the practice was stopped in this area.
Unlike today’s metal drills, the researchers said, flint heads were the Neolithic drill of choice. Flint drill heads are found abundantly at the Mehrgarh site, among sets of beads made of bones, shell and turquoise. Macchiarelli and colleagues suggested that the skills developed by bead craftsmen also worked well on teeth.
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