Found in part of a human jaw excavated in a cave near Lonche, Slovenia, the tooth is a left canine, thought to have belonged to a man aged between 24 and 30.
Research led by Federico Bernardini and Claudio Tuniz of the Abdus Salam Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy examined a vertical crack in the tooth, which had been filled with a resinous substance.
Now analysis published in the journal PLOS ONE has revealed this to be beeswax, possibly used to alleviate pain and sensitivity when chewing on the broken tooth.
The team used a range of scientific techniques including 3-D high-resolution x-rays, radiocarbon dating, and infrared spectroscopy, to determine the age and composition of the filling. They suggested that the wax may have had a therapeutic purpose, though they could not rule out it being applied after the individual’s death.
‘This finding is perhaps the most ancient evidence of prehistoric dentistry in Europe, and the earliest known direct example of therapeutic-palliative dental filling so far,’ said Federico Bernardini. ‘Bee products were used by prehistoric communities for technological, artistic, and medical purposes, but it is thanks to the Lonche finding that we can now imagine people doing dentistry in Neolithic Europe.’