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7 July 2015
Evidence of man-made pollution in ancient times

Study of dental calculus on 400,000-year-old teeth provides direct evidence of what early Palaeolithic people ate and the quality of the air they breathed inside Qesem Cave, near Tel Aviv (Israel), the site of many major discoveries from the late Lower Palaeolithic period.
     "Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque," says Professor Gopher, of Tel Aviv University. "However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well."
     The calculus revealed three major findings: charcoal from indoor fires, plant-based dietary components, and fibres.
     "This is the first evidence that the world's first indoor barbecues had health-related consequences," said Professor Barkai, also of Tel Aviv University. "The people who lived in Qesem not only enjoyed the benefits of fire - roasting their meat indoors - but they also had to find a way of controlling the fire - of living with it.
     The researchers also found minute traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, and small particles of starch. "We know that the cave dwellers ate animals, and exploited them entirely," says Barkai. "We know that they hunted them, butchered them, roasted them, broke their bones to extract their marrow, and even used the butchered bones as hammers to shape flint tools. Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed."

Edited from EurekAlert! (17 June 2015)

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