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5 Things Fossilized Teeth Have Taught Us About History

July 26, 2016
Posted By: Dr. Russell D. Mann
Fossilized teeth

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body. They are even harder than bones. Like bones, they can become fossilized when they are covered by sediment quickly after death. Over the years, scientists have learned a lot through human fossils, especially human teeth. Fossilized teeth can provide a window into what life was like back then. Here are a few things we’ve learned in recent years after discovering fossilized teeth.

Hundreds of Years Ago, Some People Weren't Getting Enough Sun

Lack of sunlight isn’t just an ailment from too many video games and not enough playing outdoors. Hundreds of years ago people would get bouts of rickets because they weren’t getting enough Vitamin D. While evidence of rickets is outgrown in the bones of humans, researchers can detect evidence of the disease when studying the teeth. Learning this can tell us about these people’s lifestyles, social class, culture or working environment.

Bling Was a Thing, Even Way Back When 

Recently, archeologists discovered a 1600-year-old skull in Mexico City. It belonged to a woman in her 30s and was found near the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan. Among the interesting things that were discovered, was the observation that her teeth had been intentionally deformed and encrusted with mineral stones. These stones were sort of like jewelry and were likely a sign of cultural rituals and social class.

How Some Species Came to Their End

The Gigantopithecus became extinct about 100,000 years ago. It was the largest primate ever, at nearly 10 feet tall and 1100 lbs. The only fossils that have been found of this animal have been jawbones and teeth, but those teeth have shown scientist what likely led to its demise. The Gigantopithecus was a vegetarian that lived in the forest and a very picky eater. When the ice age advanced, its forest shrunk, and the primate did not adapt and eat other food sources like other apes did.

How Humans May Have Migrated

The widely accepted theory of human migration is that modern humans migrated out of Africa between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago. But when scientists found human teeth dating back 80,000 years in China, they realized that humans could have landed in Asia earlier than suspected, and therefore had been a more integral area for modern evolution. A finding like this could change the map of modern evolution as we know it.

Who Had a Healthy Diet

The ancient Romans had better teeth than we do today, all thanks to their healthy diet. After Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, bodies were engulfed in ash and preserved. Last year scientists used CAT scans to examine the remains of 30 of those bodies. One observation that stuck out to them in their studies was that the bodies all had near perfect teeth. 79 AD was long before the toothbrush was invented, so that tells us that they had a low sugar diet that kept bacteria and cavities away. We can certainly learn a lot from them.

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