Dental caries before the advent of agriculture

Published in PNAS, an Anglo-Moroccan study of human remains discovered over the past 10 years in the Grotte des Pigeons, in Morocco, shows the occurrence of dental caries and abscesses in a Paleolithic population from almost 15,000 years ago, challenging the idea of , that these diseases arose in the Neolithic period due to a new grain-based diet.

Dental caries – Pigeon cave – Photo Isabelle de Grotte

The studio

The vast prehistoric site of Grotte des Pigeons in Taforalt in eastern Morocco contains both burials containing numerous fossil skeletons and a ‘dump’ containing various food remains. It is the teeth of 52 of these ancient inhabitants of the cave complex (13,700 to 15,000 years ago), as well as the reliefs of their meals, that have been analyzed by researchers from the Natural History Museum in London, Oxford University, Liverpool John Moore University (UK) and National Institute of Archeology and Heritage Sciences in Rabat (Morocco). Rating: most of these Homo sapiens of the Upper Paleolithic suffered from severe dental diseases due to the consumption of certain wild plants.

More than just dental problems

Except for three, all the skeletons examined had more than 50% decayed teeth (or affected by other lesions), sometimes with terrible dental abscesses. ” At some point the nerve to the tooth dies, but until then the pain is very painful and if you have an abscess the pain is excruciating due to the pressure on the jaw. Then, of course, the bone eventually perforates and the abscess spreads. And we see that in many of the jawbone remains we have examined. explains Dr. Louise Humphrey from the Natural History Museum in London. ” […] What could they be eating that caused such high rates of tooth decay? asks his colleague Isabelle De Groote, thus introducing the rest of the study.

The reason

Among the food scraps also analyzed, the researchers found pistachios, pine nuts and especially acorns, sources of carbohydrates that the bacteria responsible for acid attack on tooth enamel feed on. Remains of grinding wheels were also found. ” Acorns are easily stored carbohydrate ‘packages’. We think they boiled them, which made them sticky. The cooking process should have already started to break down the carbohydrates, but the stickiness of this food caused it to literally get stuck in the cavities. What if you already had holes [ou caries]it became a kind of vicious circle… says Dr. Humphrey.

Hollows preceded agriculture

This is the first time we have seen such poor oral health in a pre-agricultural population. […] This society lived too early to have relied on a domestic culture “, emphasizes Isabelle De Groote. Until now, it was generally accepted that the invention of agriculture, and therefore the consumption of grains, in the Neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago, had determined the appearance of cavities and other dental conditions in humans. . The new study shows that these pathologies could already have been widespread among certain Paleolithic populations – perhaps already quite sedentary, the researchers believe – almost 15,000 years ago. Incidentally, it also highlighted the existence … of tooth removal (incisors), more likely ritual than medicinal.


New Scientist

Earliest evidence for caries and utilization of starchy plant foods in Pleistocene hunter-gatherers from Morocco

Louise T. Humphrey
Department of Earth Sciences, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK;
Isabelle De Groote
Department of Earth Sciences, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK;
Center for Research in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool L3 3AF, United Kingdom;
Jacob Morales
Grupo Investigación Arqueobiología, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas 28037 Madrid, Spain; McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3ER, United Kingdom;
Nick Barton
Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2PG, United Kingdom;
Simon Colcutt
Oxford Archaeological Associates, Oxford OX4 1LH, UK;
Christopher Bronk Ramsey
Research Laboratory for Archeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, United Kingdom;
Abdeljalil Bouzouggar
National Institute of Archeology and Heritage Sciences, Rabat-Institutes, 10,000 Rabat, Morocco; and Institute for Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

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human teeth
From prehistory to the modern era
Florie Duranteau
Through an extremely precise and developed illustrated glossary, from Toumaï to Homo sapiens, via Australopithecines, this book describes and explains the various mutations of the tooth, mandible and face, focusing on the consequences of these transformations on everyone’s posture and diet.

Learn more about human teeth from prehistoric times to the modern era

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