- Evidence suggests that ancient human ancestors, hominins, may have used toothpicks for dental cleaning over a million years ago, a practice significantly predating previously thought instances.
- This theory comes from the detection of wood fibers at the base of a tooth found in a 1.2-million-year old hominin jawbone.
- The analysis of tartar on the hominin teeth hints at a well-rounded diet consisting of raw starchy foods and meat. Further studies reveal potential intake of grass seeds and pollen grains from conifers.
- The evidence suggests that these early hominins had a broad understanding of their surroundings and a varied diet, even though there were no signs of knowledge of using fire for food preparation.
A fascinating discovery was made suggesting the use of toothpicks by ancient ancestors of humans, potentially predating previously known instances of dental cleaning habits. Wood fibers, speculated to be remnants of regular tooth picking, were detected in a groove at the base of a tooth that was part of a 1.2-million-year-old hominin jawbone. This relic was retrieved from an archaeological dig site located in the northern regions of Spain.
Ancient Dental Practices
Prior to this, the most archaic example of dental upkeep using a toothpick was attributed to a Neanderthal and dated back 49,000 years. With this recent finding, it’s possible this cleaning process has been a part of hominin’s lives longer than initially thought.
Evidence on the Jawbone
Tartar, or hardened dental plaque, was observed coating all but one tooth in the discovered jawbone. The tartar’s analysis unveiled a balanced diet of raw starchy foods and meat, information that gives an insight into dietary habits of that era. Future research published in the journal The Science of Nature further elaborated on these dietary details.
The tartar analysis suggested the inclusion of grass seeds in the hominin’s diet due to the presence of certain starch granules. Karen Hardy, the study lead from Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies and the Universtat Autonoma de Barcelona, mentioned, “The ingestion of these ancient grasses as food seems believable. Abundant seeds produced by grasses are found in a concentrated head, which could have been easily chewed, particularly before the full maturation, drying, and scattering of the seeds.”
In addition to grass seeds, pollen grains from conifers were also found in tartar, hinting at a forest-close habitat of the hominin. Uncharred fibers and whole starch granules on the teeth provide evidence of the lack of knowledge of using fire for food preparation among the hominins. The teeth displayed signs of extensive usage, showing they were mainly utilized for gripping and chewing raw resources.
Significance of the Findings
Hardy elaborated on the conclusions drawn from the study, “Our evidence suggesting the consumption of at least two different types of starchy plants, in combination with direct evidence of meat and plant-based raw materials consumption indicates that this early European hominin population had a comprehensive understanding of its surroundings and a diverse diet.”
For those interested in delving deeper into human evolution, additional information can be found at The Smithsonian Institute’s page on human evolution.