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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test