Italian Scientists Find 6,500-Yr-Old Filling in Human Tooth Embedded in Cave Wall

An ancient cracked tooth repaired with a filling made of beeswax may be the earliest known example of therapeutic dentistry, researchers say.

The tooth is 65 centuries old and was part of a man’s jaw found more than 100 years ago in Slovenia.

Definite evidence of ancient dentistry is rare. The oldest examples are 7,500- to 9,500-year-old molars found in Pakistan that had regularly shaped cavities with concentric ridges drilled into them. Other, more questionable finds include a 5,500-year-old artificial tooth from Egypt.

Scientists reported online Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE that they found the filling as they analyzed a 6,500-year-old lower jaw recovered from a cave near Trieste, Italy. The jaw, which once belonged to a 24- to 30-year-old man, included a left canine tooth possessing a vertical crack in its hard enamel and softer dentin layers. The severe wear and tear seen on the tooth was probably due to activities besides eating, the researchers said  — for instance, men of the time might have used their teeth to soften leather or help make tools, and the women bit down on threads to hold them while weaving.