The early humans who lived in Europe more than a million year ago may already have an idea of the importance of cleaning their teeth. Evidence from a hominin molar found in Spain suggests that our human ancestors used toothpick to clean their teeth 1.2 million years ago.
In the new study published in The Science of Nature on Dec. 15, researchers analyzed ancient hominin fragments discovered in Sima del Elefante in Spain. The cave site has the earliest evidence of humans in western Europe, which include fragments of a jawbone and teeth dating back as early as 1.1. to 1.2 million years ago.
Traces Of Raw Food
Study researcher Karen Hardy, from the University of York, and colleagues removed dental tartar from a hominin molar found at the site to identify the entrapped food remains.
Analysis hinted of the kind of food that early human species in Europe consumed. Researchers discovered traces of starchy carbohydrates from two different plants, plant fibers and meat which include traces of a butterfly's wing and an insect leg.
Because the starch granules found in the molar tartar were intact and the fibers were uncharred, researchers believe that the hominids did not use fire to prepare their meals and ate their food raw. This idea is backed up by the fact that the teeth exhibit signs of heavy use, which means that they have been heavily used to grip and chew food.
Fragments Of Prehistoric Toothpick
Besides the food remains, the researchers also found what appears to be fragments of prehistoric toothpick. They have found small debris of non-edible wood from a groove at the bottom of the molar that they analyzed.
The interproximal groove, as this is called, is believed to be caused by regular tooth picking, which means that the small wooden fragments that the researchers found may have been used as small wooden toothpicks.
The findings offer evidence of dental hygiene among the earliest humans in Europe. The amount of tartar that have accumulated on the molar, however, shows that toothbrushes have not yet been used at the time.
"Additional biographical detail includes fragments of non-edible wood found adjacent to an interproximal groove suggesting oral hygiene activities," the researcher wrote in the study.
"A well-developed interproximal groove is present just above the accumulation of calculus which produced the wood fragments. Interproximal grooves, found on teeth of all Homo species since H. habilis, have long been linked to tooth picking."