Forget crisps and sweets – Stone Age hunter-gatherers found to suffer earliest tooth decay after snacking on pine nuts and acorns

Scientists say they have found the first evidence of rotting teeth to pre-date the invention of farming

A A A

Dentists are always telling us to avoid sweet, sticky foods for the sake of our teeth – and it had been believed that this was a problem unique to modern humans.

Yet scientists have now discovered the very first evidence of teeth which had been rotted away by an unhealthy diet in the Stone Age, long before humans started turning farmed crops into sugary snacks.

A team of researchers from the Natural History Museum analysed the skeletal remains of 52 adults who were buried together in Moroccan cave between 15,000 and 13,700 years ago.

As well as finding unprecedented levels of bad oral hygiene, they discovered evidence that the group had cooked nuts foraged from nearby – making the treats sweet and, crucially, sticky.

“This is the first time we've seen such bad oral health in a pre-agricultural population,” said Isabelle De Groote, who co-authored the report.

Her team found evidence of decay in more than half of the surviving teeth – levels similar to those found in modern-day societies.

Until now the earliest remains shown to have such cavities were from early agricultural populations, which were the first to process wheat and barley into high-sugar foods like porridge and bread.

“This evidence predates the first signs of food production by several thousand years,” reads the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists found the remains of pine nuts and sweet North African acorns alongside the hunter-gatherers, as well as the remnants of grindstones which could have been used in cooking preparation.

The University of Leicester’s Marijke van der Veen told New Scientist: “A heavy reliance on certain plant foods well before people started to rely on cultivated plants could, in certain circumstances, lead to significant [tooth decay] levels.”

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Recruitment Genius: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore