Nav: Home

Analysis of Neanderthal teeth grooves uncovers evidence of prehistoric dentistry

June 28, 2017

LAWRENCE -- Neanderthals treating toothaches?

A discovery of multiple toothpick grooves on teeth and signs of other manipulations by a Neanderthal of 130,000 years ago are evidence of a kind of prehistoric dentistry, according to a new study led by a University of Kansas researcher.

"As a package, this fits together as a dental problem that the Neanderthal was having and was trying to presumably treat itself, with the toothpick grooves, the breaks and also with the scratches on the premolar," said David Frayer, professor emeritus of Anthropology. "It was an interesting connection or collection of phenomena that fit together in a way that we would expect a modern human to do. Everybody has had dental pain, and they know what it's like to have a problem with an impacted tooth."

The Bulletin of the International Association for Paleodontology recently published the study. The researchers analyzed four isolated but associated mandibular teeth on the left side of the Neanderthal's mouth. Frayer's co-authors are Joseph Gatti, a Lawrence dentist, Janet Monge, of the University of Pennsylvania; and, Davorka Radovčić, curator at the Croatian Natural History Museum.

The teeth were found at Krapina site in Croatia, and Frayer and Radovčić have made several discoveries about Neanderthal life there, including a widely recognized 2015 study published in PLOS ONE about a set of eagle talons that included cut marks and were fashioned into a piece of jewelry.

The teeth and all the Krapina Neanderthal fossils were discovered more than 100 years ago from the site, which was originally excavated between 1899-1905.

However, Frayer and Radovčić in recent years have reexamined many items collected from the site.

In this case, they analyzed the teeth with a light microscope to document occlusal wear, toothpick groove formation, dentin scratches, and ante mortem, lingual enamel fractures.

Even though the teeth were isolated, previous researchers were able to reconstruct their order and location in the male or female Neanderthal's mouth. Frayer said researchers have not recovered the mandible to look for evidence of periodontal disease, but the scratches and grooves on the teeth indicate they were likely causing irritation and discomfort for some time for this individual.

They found the premolar and M3 molar were pushed out of their normal positions. Associated with that, they found six toothpick grooves among those two teeth and the two molars further behind them.

"The scratches indicate this individual was pushing something into his or her mouth to get at that twisted premolar," Frayer said.

The features of the premolar and third molar are associated with several kinds of dental manipulations, he said. Mostly because the chips of the teeth were on the tongue side of the teeth and at different angles, the researchers ruled out that something happened to the teeth after the Neanderthal died.

Past research in the fossil record has identified toothpick grooves going back almost 2 million years, Frayer said. They did not identify what the Neanderthal would have used to produce the toothpick grooves, but it possibly could have been a bone or stem of grass.

"It's maybe not surprising that a Neanderthal did this, but as far as I know, there's no specimen that combines all of this together into a pattern that would indicate he or she was trying to presumably self-treat this eruption problem," he said.

The evidence from the toothpick marks and dental manipulations is also interesting in light of the discovery of the Krapina Neanderthals' ability to fashion eagle talons fashioned into jewelry because people often think of Neanderthals as having "subhuman" abilities.

"It fits into a pattern of a Neanderthal being able to modify its personal environment by using tools," Frayer said, "because the toothpick grooves, whether they are made by bones or grass stems or who knows what, the scratches and chips in the teeth, they show us that Neanderthals were doing something inside their mouths to treat the dental irritation. Or at least this one was."
-end-


University of Kansas

Related Neanderthals Articles:

The last Neanderthal necklace
For the first time, researchers found evidence of the ornamental uses of eagle talons in the Iberian Peninsula.
Insight into competitive advantage of modern humans over Neanderthals
A team of Japanese and Italian researchers, including from Tohoku University, have evidenced mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe dating to 45,000-40,000 years -- more than 20,000 years than previously thought.
Did a common childhood illness take down the neanderthals?
A new study suggests that the extinction of Neanderthals may be tied to persistent, life-long ear infections due to the structure of their Eustachian tubes, which are similar to those of human infants.
Denisovan finger bone more closely resembles modern human digits than Neanderthals
Scientists have identified the missing part of a finger bone fragment from the Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, revealing that Denisovans -- an early human population discovered when the original fragment was genetically sequenced in 2010 -- had fingers indistinguishable from modern humans despite being more closely related to Neanderthals.
Neanderthals commonly suffered from 'swimmer's ear'
Abnormal bony growths in the ear canal were surprisingly common in Neanderthals, according to a study published Aug.
Neanderthals used resin 'glue' to craft their stone tools
Archaeologists working in two Italian caves have discovered some of the earliest known examples of ancient humans using an adhesive on their stone tools -- an important technological advance called 'hafting.'
Neanderthals made repeated use of the ancient settlement of 'Ein Qashish, Israel
The archaeological site of 'Ein Qashish in northern Israel was a place of repeated Neanderthal occupation and use during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study released June 26, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ravid Ekshtain of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and colleagues.
Ancient DNA analysis adds chapter to the story of neanderthal migrations
After managing to obtain DNA from two 120,000-year-old European Neandertals, researchers report that these specimens are more genetically similar to Neandertals that lived in Europe 80,000 year later than they are to a Neandertal of similar age found in Siberia.
Neanderthals and modern humans diverged at least 800,000 years ago
Neanderthals and modern humans diverged at least 800,000 years ago, substantially earlier than indicated by most DNA-based estimates, according to new research by a UCL academic.
Woolly mammoths and Neanderthals may have shared genetic traits
A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that the genetic profiles of two extinct mammals with African ancestry -- woolly mammoths and Neanderthals -- shared molecular characteristics of adaptation to cold environments.
More Neanderthals News and Neanderthals Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.