Researchers may have uncovered one of the oral hygiene habits of the ancient human that would sure to please modern dentists.
A new study appearing in The Science of Nature shows that humans approximately 1.2 million years ago used their own homemade tooth picks, which has led to new theories on the dietary habits of ancient humans.
A team led by Karen Hardy, Ph.D., Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies research professor at the Universtat Autonoma de Barcelona, found evidence of wood fibers found on a tooth in a 1.2-million-year-old hominin jawbone, which was discovered during an excavation in northern Spain.
“Obtaining evidence for any aspect of hominin life at this extremely early date is very challenging,” Hardy said in a statement. “Here, we have been able to demonstrate that these earliest Europeans understood and exploited their forested environment to obtain a balanced diet 1.2 million years ago, by eating a range of different foods and combining starchy plant food with meat.”
The previously oldest known example of dental cleaning was from the 49,000-year-old remains of a Neanderthal.
Further analysis showed tartar or hardened plaque on all the teeth in the jawbone except for one, which showed that the ancient humans ate a balanced diet of meat and starchy foods but also ate food raw.
The research team believes some of the starch diet may have come from grass seeds and other staples of the diet may have included conifer pollen grains, which suggests that the hominin lived near a forest.
The researchers also concluded the hominins did not know how to use fire to cook food based on the intact starch granules and uncharred fibers found on the teeth. The teeth were also worn down and had signs of heavy use, which likely proves that they were used to grip and chew raw food.
“This new timeline has significant implications in helping us to understand this period of human evolution—cooked food provides greater energy and cooking may be linked to the rapid increases in brain size that occurred from 800,000 years ago onwards,” Hardy said.
“It also correlates well with previous research hypothesizing that the timing of cooking is linked to the development of salivary amylase, needed to process cooked starchy food. Starchy food was an essential element in facilitating brain development, and contrary to popular belief about the ‘Paleo diet’, the role of starchy food in the Paleolithic diet was significant.”
Anita Radini, a Ph.D. student at the University of York, explained to what this discovery could lead.
“These results are very exciting, as they highlight the potential of dental calculus to store dietary and environmental information from deep in the human evolutionary past,” Radini said in a statement. “It is also interesting to see that pollen remains are preserved often in better conditions than in the soil of the same age.
“Overall this is a very positive step in the discipline, in terms of preservation of material in the calculus matrix.”