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article imageHumans ate raw food but cleaned their teeth 1.2 million years ago

By Arthur Weinreb     Dec 17, 2016 in Science
Examination of a 1.2 million-year-old molar found in Spain led scientists to conclude people at that time were aware of the importance of dental hygiene. The tooth also yielded clues about diet during that time period.
The molar was discovered in Sima del Elefante, Spain and the site has yielded remains of the earliest humans in Western Europe. Analysis of the molar was undertaken by researchers from the University of York in the U.K.
The researchers, led by Dr. Karen Hardy, found pieces of non-edible wood embedded in the molar. Since the wood was non-edible, the scientists concluded the wood was used as a toothpick to clean the teeth. But the buildup of plaque on the tooth showed toothbrushes were obviously not around 1.2 million years ago. The plaque enabled bits of food to be trapped inside and allowed the researchers to determine the ancient Europeans' diet.
Previously, the earliest known case of practising dental hygiene was found to have occurred in the body of a Neanderthal who lived 49,000 years ago.
Analysis of the molar showed traces of both meat and plants. The meat found in the tooth consisted of a trace of a wing of a butterfly and a portion of an insect’s leg. Fibres from two plants were also found and analyzed. Pollen grains were found as well as grass seeds that were chewed. These fibres suggest the people who consumed that food lived near a forest.
The tooth also revealed the food these early humans ate was not cooked. As New Historian reports, there is disagreement among researchers as to when humans began to use fire. Some believe man had been using fire for more than 1.8 million years. Others say the use of fire only began between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago. Still others claim man discovered and used fire in Africa but lost that knowledge after early humans migrated to Europe.
Food found in the tooth showed no charring or anything else that would indicate it had been near fire. This suggests the use of fire probably developed between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago.
According to Hardy, the study gives researchers a better understanding of human evolution. Not only does cooked food provide the body with more energy but it is associated with an increase in brain size that began to occur around 800,000 years ago.
The study was published on Dec.15 in the journal The Science of Nature.
More about molars, dr karen hardy, Cavemen, Toothpicks, Teeth
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