(left) UZH; (right) 120/Creative Commons

ScienceShot: Iceman Had Bad Teeth

Europe's best-known mummy wasn't just a medical mess; he also had terrible teeth, according to a new study. Ötzi (inset photo), a Stone Age man who died atop a glacier about 5300 years ago, suffered from severe gum disease and cavities. His teeth, back and front, were also heavily worn from chewing coarse grain and use as a "third hand" for gripping tools and cutting. When Ötzi was discovered atop a glacier on the Austro-Italian border, his frozen corpse was intensively studied. But no one took a close look at his teeth until now. Using 3D computer tomography (a CAT scan), the hunter's mouth could be examined for clues as to the life he led. The results, published this week in the European Journal of Oral Sciences, suggest that Ötzi didn't have it easy. A fall or other accident killed one of his front teeth, still discolored millennia later. And he may have had a small stone, gone unnoticed in his whole-grain bread or gruel, to thank for a broken molar. That gruel may be the culprit behind Ötzi's cavities and gum disease, too. (An arrow on the right in CAT scan above marks places where the bone is eaten away by infection, the left arrow points at deep cavities.) In the late Stone Age, humans were increasingly incorporating coarsely ground grain into their diets. The uptick in starches, the researchers suggest, could explain the increasing frequency of cavities in teeth from the time—a problem that's been with us ever since.

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Posted in Archaeology, Health