Ice Age Filling in Italy One of the Oldest Signs of Dentistry

The earliest known use of filling teeth has been found in Italy!

A pair of 13,000-year-old front teeth appears to have been worked on with bitumen by an Ice Age dentist.

filling ice age dentistry

So for all of you with a slight fear of the dentist, be glad you’re able to go now and not 13,000 years ago. Bitumen is a semi-solid form of petroleum and seems to be this ancient dentists form of filling teeth.

The newly discovered teeth, two upper central incisors appear to belong to the same person and were found at the Riparo Fredian site. Which is near Lucca in Northern Italy. Both teeth have a sizeable hole in the surface that extends down into the pulp chamber deep in the tooth. Speaking to New Scientist, Stephano Benazzi, an archaeologist at the University of Bologna said:

“It is quite unusual, not something you see in normal teeth,”

filling ice age dentistry

Benazzi and his team used various microscopic techniques to get a close look at the inside of the holes. They found a series of tiny horizontal marks on the walls that suggest they were cavities that had been drilled out and enlarged, likely by tiny stone tools. Though there have been several examples recently of how our ancestors practiced their version of dentistry, this finding contained innovation. The holes contain traces of bitumen. As well as plant fibres and hairs embedded in it. Benazzi believes this to be evidence of prehistoric fillings.

However, the use of the plants and hair cannot be determined entirely, it is known that they were placed in at the same time the hole was drilled.

This means their presence was intentional and not accidental food residue. According to Benazzi the Paleolithic dentist would have drilled out the cavities before filling the holes with bitumen to reduce pain and to keep food out of the pulp chamber, just like in modern dentistry.

Bitumen, along with some medicinal plants, might have been used as an antiseptic. Much like beeswax, which was used in other examples of prehistoric dentistry thousands of years later. During the Upper Paleolithic, at the time the owner of these teeth was alive, Europe was undergoing big cultural changes. New people arrived on the continent from the near East, claims Benazzi. It’s possible they might have brought with them new kinds of food, which led to more cavities. In turn, meaning the opportunity to investigate the world of dentistry had arisen.

filling ice age dentistry

Unfortunately, with only the two teeth to go by, Benazzi is not able to say much about the patient. All that can be decided is that, judging by the amount of wear, he or she was not young.

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