Fixing Ancient Toothaches

Digs & Discoveries January/February 2013


Scientists have recently uncovered evidence of a couple of instances of ingenious dental work in the ancient world. A team led by Federico Bernardini of the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, used a variety of techniques including CT scans and mass spectrometry to show that a 6,500-year-old skull found at the site of Lonche in Slovenia contains a cracked tooth that had been filled with beeswax—the oldest dental filling yet discovered. A similarly inventive technique was used on an Egyptian man whose mummified body dates to around 2,100 years ago. Andrew Wade of the University of Western Ontario led a group of researchers who found that the man had numerous cavities, the largest of which had been packed with linen. Unfortunately, the idea of using woven plant fibers to make dental floss was still millennia away. 

  • Artifacts January/February 2013


    A mid-nineteenth-century trident illustrates a changing marine ecosystem in the South Pacific

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    (Catalog Number 99071 © The Field Museum, [CL000_99071_Overall], Photographer Christopher J. Philipp)
  • Around the World January/February 2013


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  • Digs & Discoveries January/February 2013

    The Rehabilitation of Richard III

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    (Courtesy University of Leicester)
  • Features January/February 2013

    Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart

    One thousand years of spirituality, innovation, and social development emerge from a ceremonial center on the Scottish archipelago of Orkney

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    (Adam Stanford/Aerial Cam)