World's oldest dental filling found

Posted by Kate Taylor

Scientists say that they've discovered evidence of stone-age dentistry - a filling made of beeswax that dates back 6,500 years.

The jawbone containing the filled tooth was found in Slovenia, and likely belonged to a man between 24 and 30. Discovered over 100 years ago, it sat in a local museum ever since, without attracting a great deal of attention.

The beeswax appears to have been applied around the time of the individual's death, but there's no way of telling whether it was shortly before or after. It's possible that it was used as part of some sort of death ritual.

If it was applied before death, however, it was likely intended to reduce pain and sensitivity from a vertical crack in the enamel and dentin layers of the tooth.

The severe wear of the tooth, says Claudio Tuniz of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, "is probably also due to its use in non-alimentary activities, possibly such as weaving, generally performed by Neolithic females."

It's not the first evidence of very early dentistry. In 2001, a graveyard in Pakistan dating as far back as 9,000 years yielded up 11 human molars showing drill holes - but no fillings.

"This finding is perhaps the most ancient evidence of pre-historic dentistry in Europe and the earliest known direct example of therapeutic-palliative dental filling so far," says co-author Federico Bernardini.