Laura Martín-Francés, a researcher from the National Research Centre on Human Evolution, has co-authored a paper published in Quaternary International that describes several teeth that bear evidence of toothpick use from the Middle Pleistocene site of Yiyuan in China.
- by Agencia Sinc/translated from Spanish
“Laura Martín-Francés, a researcher from the Dental Anthropology Group in the National Research Centre on Human Evolution (CENIEH), has collaborated with a team from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing in a recently published article in Quaternary International. The authors propose that they have found evidence for first instance of toothpick by Middle Pleistocene hominids from Eastern Asia. They concluded that the striae resulted from the intentional removal of food debris from the teeth.
The article is an analysis of dental microwear; the authors microscopically focus on the interproximal surfaces of Homo erectus fossil teeth discovered in 1981-1982 at Yiyuan, a site in the Shangdong Province of China. The striae were identified in five of the seven teeth that were analysed, which belonged to three individuals.
Binocular microscopes and Scanning Electron Micropes are used to identify microwear on teeth…The location, morphology, and size of these grooves are similar to artificial damage caused by regular use of toothpicks.
These striae would be the earliest incidence of toothpick use yet found in the Asian palaeoanthropological record. Such evidence has been suggested in other species: Homo habilis (African Plio-Pleistocene), Homo heidelbergensis (European Middle Pleistocene) and Homo neanderthalensis (European Upper Pleistocene).
Laura Martín-Francés has already published a paper on the earliest evidence of toothpick marks in Europe in an analysis of the dental pathologies of a ~1.2 My Sima del Elefante (Atapuerca) specimen.
Hypotheses suggested to be the cause of these toothpick striations include: oral hygiene, removal of food trapped between teeth, relief of pain caused by dental disease and personal habit. As concerns the Yiyuan specimens, the article concludes that the marks resulted from extraction of food debris caught between the teeth. Martín-Francés explained that the teeth did not bear evidence of pathological conditions, “but that pathology cannot be completely ruled out as no associated mandibular or maxillary fragments have been recovered.”
***Perhaps I was unable to properly translate certain technical information from this article but some of it seemed incorrect so I left it out. Also H. habilis? I don’t recall hearing about such a study. And although there are limitations to what we can say about long term anything from microwear analyses, methods have been steadily improving that limit interobserver error and reduce subjectivity. Nevertheless, I’ll take Occlusal Fingerprint Analysis any day. I’m a morphology girl at heart, I guess.
(Source: Agencia Sinc)