April 5, 2006

Flint Heads Were Neolithic Tooth Drill of Choice

LONDON -- Long before the invention of electric drills and anaesthesia early humans drilled teeth to treat decay, according to research published on Wednesday.

But in the absence of modern metal tools the Neolithic drill of choice 9,000 years ago was a flint head, according to Roberto Macchiarelli, of the University of Poitiers in France.

While excavating in Pakistan, Macchiarelli and a team of international scientists found drilled molars from nine adults discovered in a grave that date from 7,500 to 9,000 years ago.

"These findings provide evidence for a long tradition of a type of proto-dentistry in an early farming culture," Macchiarelli said in a report in the journal Nature.

The four females, two males and three people whose gender was unknown had a total of 11 drilled teeth. One had three drilled teeth and another had a tooth that had been drilled twice.

"Four teeth show signs of decay associated with the hole, indicating that the intervention in some cases could have been therapeutic or palliative," he added.

Some type of filling may have been used but the researchers said there is no remaining evidence to confirm it. Drilling teeth seems to have continued for 1,500 years in the area before stopping, according to the scientists.

"Presumably, the know-how originally developed by skilled artisans for bead production was successfully transferred to drilling teeth in a form of proto-dentistry," said Macchiarelli.