Scientists have uncovered a 6500-year-old human jawbone with a tooth that has what appears to be cavity covered by beeswax.
The jawbone was discovered last century in a cave in Slovenia and the research group report that radiocarbon dating places the jawbone in the Stone Age.
Researchers Federico Bernardini and Claudio Tuniz of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy, along with Alfredo Coppa, Lucia Mancini, Diego Dreossi, Diane Eichert, Gianluca Turco, Matteo Biasotto, Filippo Terrasi, Nicola De Cesare, Quan Hua, and Vladimir Levchenko published their findings in the open access journal PLoS ONE on September 19.
The report states that with the use of different analytical techniques, including synchrotron radiation computed micro-tomography (micro-CT), Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating, Infrared (IR) Spectroscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), has shown that the exposed area of dentine resulting from occlusal wear and the upper part of a vertical crack affecting enamel and dentin tissues were filled with beeswax shortly before or after the individual’s death. (PLos ONE)
The beeswax filling is significant because prior to this discovery there has been no published evidence on the use of therapeutic-palliative substances in prehistoric dentistry.
“The jawbone remained in the museum for 101 years without anybody noticing anything strange,” says Claudio Tuniz at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste. That was until Tuniz and his colleague Federico Bernardini happened to use the specimen to test new X-ray imaging equipment, and spotted some unusual material attached to a canine, reports New Scientist Life.
The scientists hypothesize that due to the exposed dentin and possibly the vertical crack, the tooth probably became very sensitive, limiting the functionality of the jaw during occlusion. The occlusal surface could have been filled with beeswax in an attempt to reduce the pain sealing exposed dentin tubules and the fracture from changes in osmotic pressure (as occurs on contact with sugar) and temperature (hot or cold relative to the oral cavity). The binding properties of beeswax could have been increased by the probable presence of honey, one of the main ingredients of external applications used in ancient Egypt to fix loose teeth or to reduce the tooth pain. (PLos ONE)
Since 3D imaging was used to discover the filing, it will be interesting to see how this technology will help dentists diagnose dental problems at their earliest stages.
What are your thoughts on this discovery?
To read the full research article, see Beeswax as Dental Filling on a Neolithic Human Tooth on PLos ONE.