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6 April 2006
Prehistoric dentists

Italian researchers say they have found the world's oldest dentists - drilling away in Pakistan 9,000 years ago. The Neolithic precursors of today's dental experts "used tiny flint-tipped wooden drills they managed to whirl around 20 times a second, using little bows," said Renato Guarini of Rome University. Signs of drilling have so far been seen in eleven molars out of a trove of almost 5,000 teeth found at a necropolis in Pakistan, Guarini said.
     The teeth have been loaned by the Pakistan government to Rome's Pigorini ethnography museum, where experts hope to find more holes. "They invented a whole new therapy, using their existing expertise with beaded necklaces," said Pigorini anthropology chief Luca Bondioli. Hundreds of bone, shell and stone beads have been found at the site at Mehgar on the Indus River Valley, Bondioli said.
     The team found 11 drilled permanent crowns, with one showing evidence of tooth enamel removal and microtool carving of the cavity wall. Four had signs of decay linked to the drilled hole, "indicating the intervention may have been therapeutic".
     Alfredo Coppa of Rome University's Human Biology derpartment said: "At first we thought the holes in the teeth were due to tooth decay. Then we found the beads". The bead apertures are the same size as the tooth holes - a few tenths of a millimetre.  "So far we haven't found any trace of fillings but we're sure we will," Coppa added. Materials that could have been used to fill the drill holes are abundant at the Pakistani site, he noted: bitumen, resin and cotton. Flint drill heads were found among beads made of bones, shell and turquoise. The finds showed the dental "treatment" continued in the area for 1,500 years.
     The Rome researchers collaborated with experts in Paris, Poitiers, Kansas and Yucatan on their study, which is set for publication in the journal Nature.

Sources: Ananova, ANSA (5 April 2006)

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