Feb. 12 - Scientists say they have identified the earliest signs of tooth decay in humans, from the remains of Stone Age teeth found in Morocco. The findings suggest that people living in the area between 13,500 and 15,000 years ago may have been storing and eating plants rich in carbohydrates and sugar, several thousand years earlier than previously thought. Jim Drury has more.
These teeth are around 15,000 years old....... Discovered with 51 other Stone Age jaw bones in a Morrocan cave, they show the earliest evidence of human tooth decay. All but three sets of the hunter-gatherers' teeth revealed signs of rot. Co-director of the dig, Professor Abdeljalil Bouzouggar of Morocco's National Institute for Archaeological Sciences, says the discovery challenges established Middle East history. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ABDELJALIL BOUZOUGGAR, PROFESSOR OF ARCHAEOLOGY AT THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL SCIENCES, SAYING: "The scientific value of this discovery resides in the fact that it is the first and oldest case of teeth decay found. Also, the traces of tooth decay have a very profound and interesting significance because it means that these people who lived in this cave 13,500 to 15,000 years ago, consumed some products rich in carbohydrate or sugar-rich content in some plant food for a long period." And it may be that they were storing and consuming that food thousands of years earlier than previously thought. The findings suggest that people living in the Grotte des Pigeons caves ate plants full of carbohydrates and sugar all year round. Bouzouggar says acorns, pine nuts, pistachios, and wild oats would have been popular, but would also have nurtured mouth bacteria...and tooth decay. SOUNDBITE (Arabic) ABDELJALIL BOUZOUGGAR, PROFESSOR OF ARCHAEOLOGY AT THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL SCIENCES, SAYING: "We used X-rays and we analysed the products and plants that were consumed by humans at that time. This analysis was made by an expert from Spain who examined the tiny remains of the plants and sweet products consumed by humans at that time." Bouzouggar says many people at the time would have endured great pain as a result of the tooth decay. Previous research has shown that humans' dental health worsened when people settled into agricultural communities. The Grotte des Pigeons jaws suggests those communities developed at a much earlier period when, it appears, even Stone Age man had a sweet tooth.