The Golden Age Project
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By Mark Henderson

PREHISTORIC dentists may have been using stone drills to treat tooth decay up to 9,000 years ago, a team of archaeologists has discovered.

Excavations at a site in Pakistan have unearthed skulls containing teeth dotted with tiny, perfectly round holes. Under an electron microscope, they revealed a pattern of concentric grooves, that were almost certainly formed by the circular motion of a drill with a stone bit.

The discovery, which was made at an archaeological dig in Mehrgarh, in Baluchistan Province, offers the earliest evidence of human dentistry.

The excavated village belonged to a civilisation that thrived between 8,000and 9,000 years ago, whose members cultivated crops and made jewellery from shells, amethyst and turquoise.

Andrea Cucina, of the University of Missouri-Columbia, who found the molars with telltale marks, said: “At this point we can’t be certain, but it is very tantalising to think they had such knowledge of health and cavities and medicine to do this”.

Dr Cucina, whose research is reported in New Scientist magazine, said the holes would probably have been filled with some sort of medicinal herb to treat tooth decay. Any filling would long ago have decomposed.

The dental discovery was made while Dr Cucina was washing teeth from the Mehrgarhing and spotted the tiny hole in the biting surface of a molar. The hole was too perfectly round to have been caused by bacteria and the tooth had been found in a jawbone, ruling out the possibility that it had been pierced to be strung on to a necklace.

The Top of the hole was rounded from chewing, suggesting that it was made while the owner was still alive