Ancient dental plaque reveals habits of human beings

Ancient dental plaque reveals habits of human beingsAncient dental plaque acts as a record of the bacteria in your mouth – and a new study reveals human beings have always loved carbs.

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team analysed the evolution of the oral microbiome.

Looking at it in humans, Neanderthals and other primate species, they examined more than 100 samples of dental calculus over a 100,000-year period.

This included archaeological remains of humans over various sites in Europe and Africa from up to 20,000 years ago. As well as Neanderthals and samples from gorillas, chimpanzees and howler monkeys.

Dental plaque hardens into tartar or calculus, and is the only part of the body that fossilises while we are alive.

Significantly absent

One finding was that one microbe group was found in humans and Neanderthals but significantly absent in chimpanzees.

The presence indicates a tendency to consume starchy foods, such as roots and tubers. As a result, it suggests a change in diet as humans evolved.

Christina Warinner is an assistant professor of anthropology at Harvard University.

Common traits

‘We were able to show, interestingly enough, that these bacteria rose to prominence not in humans after agriculture,’ she said.

‘This is what you might expect because of increasing starch consumption. But actually was a generalisable trait of all humans, even ones from the Ice Age. And it was also found in Neanderthals.’

She also points out how it suggests starch is not a new dietary component.

Additionally, the researchers also found 10 consistent bacterial species that have co-evolved with humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, howler monkeys, and Neanderthals for a long time. For example, potentially for up to 40 million years.

This suggests that those species are particularly important in the oral microbiome.


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