Dr. Neanderthal DDS Performs Prehistoric Dentistry

Neanderthals are usually depicted as club swinging primates that used grunting as a form of communication. They aren’t often credited for their medical knowledge. However, a recently released study shows us that we may have given Neanderthals a bad rap, particularly in the dental hygiene department.

Prehistoric Dentistry

New findings have archaeologists saying that Neanderthals may have performed prehistoric dentistry. Examining a 130,000 year old Neanderthal tooth, they noticed scrapings and grooves that seemed unnatural for teeth – even if they were really old. After further study, they were able to determine that the scratches were actually the result of toothpicks and dental maneuvering.

Now, the toothpick ‘discovery’ wasn’t much of a surprise. This particular tooth tool has shown up many times across the hominid species, but they weren’t exactly why they were used. Some thought the purpose was to relieve discomfort, others believed it was a form of “Fibre processing and saliva jetting.” But this new evidence supports that the prehistoric toothpicks could be related to dentistry.

Although no evidence was found to confirm what the toothpick was made from, doctors estimate that it could have been created from bone or a stem. This development, combined with the separate discovery of Krapina Neanderthal jewelry fashioned from eagle talons, depicts a pattern that the primitive species were prone to modify their environment using tools.

The Discovery

The ancient teeth were located in the famous Krapina site in Croatia, from a Neanderthal named Krapina Dental Patient 20, or KDP 20 for short. The teeth had actually been discovered over a century ago, between 1899 and 1905, but are still being studied today.

Although the teeth were isolated from the mandible, the doctors were able to gather a plethora of knowledge from their examination. From the marks and positioning of the teeth, it appeared that KDP 20 was suffering from an impacted tooth and trying to relieve his discomfort by dislodging it using primitive dental tools.

In addition to the primal dental practices, recent analysis of the ancient tooth plaque found remnants of medicinal plants, like chamomile and, mushrooms. The presence of these plants, along with poplar leaves (the primary ingredient for aspirin) and an antibiotic mold that acts as a natural penicillin, indicates that Neanderthals were ingesting plants for natural and effective pain relief.

Dr. Joseph Gatti, a practicing dentist, and Dr. David Frayer, Ph.D and professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Kansas, collaborated on the study that released these findings. The study was published in June issue of The Bulletin of the International Association of Paleontology.

Dr. Frayer agrees that these recent findings are beginning to paint a different picture of the Neanderthal, who may have been more intelligent than we give them credit for. According to Dr. Frayer, “All of these examples suggest a level of sophistication like us.”


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