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News / January 22, 2014

Dental details show ancestors

by Guy Hiscott

Cavities and abscesses were abundant in the teeth of our ancient ancestors, according to a study led by British scientists.

Teeth from 52 skeletons dating back between 13,700 and 15,000 years showed evidence of widespread decay, due to a diet mostly made up of wild acorns and pine nuts.

Both contain high levels of fermentable carbohydrates that are especially destructive when they lodge in teeth because of the oral bacteria they attract.

The reliance on harvesting nuts shows some of the earliest evidence of hunter-gatherers living a more inactive lifestyle than was previously thought.

‘We use the charred fragments to identify plants that were carried back to the cave including food items, such as acorns and pine nuts,’ said palaeobotanist Dr Jacob Morales, a member of the research team from Cambridge University.

Isabelle De Groote, who studied the teeth from London’s Natural History Museam, added: ‘They would have suffered from frequent toothache and bad breath.’

The skeletons were recovered from Grotte des Pigeons, a cave system at Taforalt, Morocco.

The results were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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