Dental disease was thought to have originated with the introduction of farming and changes in food processing around 10,000 years ago. A greater reliance on cultivated plant foods, rich in fermentable carbohydrates, resulted in rotting teeth.
Now, the analysis of 52 adult dentitions from hunter-gatherer skeletons found in a cave in Taforalt, Morocco dating from between 15,000 and 13,700 years ago suggests people suffered tooth decay in much earlier times. Evidence of decay was found in more than half of the teeth that were intact, with only three skeletons showing no sign of cavities.
I actually found this while looking at another article but this one was more interesting. It’s not that no dental problems were present before ‘agriculture’, but that the damage done to teeth was different: HG’s tended — tended — to have more very worn teeth and abscesses rather than cavities and decay. What we’re finding is that both HGs and early agriculturalists had widely varying diets, the former sometimes including the sorts of starchy plant foods elaborated upon by agriculturalists and the latter including a lot of wild foods in addition to domesticates.
This is part of where the sort of ‘bias’ against agriculture/sedentism and romantic notions of happy, healthy hunter-gatherers comes from, in part.
Also a very rare sort of a cemetery for non-agriculturalists.
Dental caries is an infectious disease that causes tooth decay. The high prevalence of dental caries in recent humans is attributed to more frequent consumption of plant foods rich in fermentable carbohydrates in food-producing societies. The transition from hunting and gathering to food production is associated with a change in the composition of the oral microbiota and broadly coincides with the estimated timing of a demographic expansion in Streptococcus mutans, a causative agent of human dental caries. Here we present evidence linking a high prevalence of caries to reliance on highly cariogenic wild plant foods in Pleistocene hunter-gatherers from North Africa, predating other high caries populations and the first signs of food production by several thousand years. Archaeological deposits at Grotte des Pigeons in Morocco document extensive evidence for human occupation during the Middle Stone Age and Later Stone Age (Iberomaurusian), and incorporate numerous human burials representing the earliest known cemetery in the Maghreb. Macrobotanical remains from occupational deposits dated between 15,000 and 13,700 cal B.P. provide evidence for systematic harvesting and processing of edible wild plants, including acorns and pine nuts. Analysis of oral pathology reveals an exceptionally high prevalence of caries (51.2% of teeth in adult dentitions), comparable to modern industrialized populations with a diet high in refined sugars and processed cereals. We infer that increased reliance on wild plants rich in fermentable carbohydrates and changes in food processing caused an early shift toward a disease-associated oral microbiota in this population.