Earliest evidence of dental caries manipulation in the Late Upper Palaeolithic

  • Prehistoric dental treatments were extremely rare, and the few documented cases are known from the Neolithic, when the adoption of early farming culture caused an increase of carious lesions. Here we report the earliest evidence of dental caries intervention on a Late Upper Palaeolithic modern human specimen (Villabruna) from a burial in Northern Italy. Using Scanning Electron Microscopy we show the presence of striations deriving from the manipulation of a large occlusal carious cavity of the lower right third molar. The striations have a "V"-shaped transverse section and several parallel micro-scratches at their base, as typically displayed by cutmarks on teeth. Based on in vitro experimental replication and a complete functional reconstruction of the Villabruna dental arches, we confirm that the identified striations and the associated extensive enamel chipping on the mesial wall of the cavity were produced ante-mortem by pointed flint tools during scratching and levering activities. The Villabruna specimen is therefore the oldest known evidence of dental caries intervention, suggesting at least some knowledge of disease treatment well before the Neolithic. This study suggests that primitive forms of carious treatment in human evolution entail an adaptation of the well-known toothpicking for levering and scratching rather than drilling practices.

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Author:Gregorio OxiliaORCiD, Marco PeresaniORCiDGND, Matteo RomandiniORCiD, Chiara MatteucciGND, Cynthianne Debono SpiteriORCiD, Amanda G. HenryORCiDGND, Dieter SchulzGND, Will ArcherORCiD, Jacopo CrezziniORCiD, Francesco BoschinORCiD, Paolo Boscato, Klervia JaouenORCiD, Tamara DogandžićORCiD, Alberto BroglioGND, Jacopo Moggi-CecchiORCiD, Luca FiorenzaORCiDGND, Jean-Jacques HublinORCiDGND, Ottmar KullmerORCiDGND, Stefano BenazziORCiDGND
Pubmed Id:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26179739
Parent Title (English):Scientific reports
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
Place of publication:London
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2015/07/16
Date of first Publication:2015/07/16
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2016/08/29
Page Number:10
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Institutes:Angeschlossene und kooperierende Institutionen / Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 56 Fossilien, Paläontologie / 560 Paläontologie; Paläozoologie
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 4.0