Thursday, April 06, 2006
Older than the useful invention of anesthesia? Does this mean prehistoric man 9,000 years ago hadn't yet learned to bash himself into unconscousness with a big rock? I'm assuming even the risk of a fractured skull would be preferable to having a tooth drilled with a rough stone drill in the blunt hands of an untrained caveman.
Proving prehistoric man's ingenuity and ability to withstand and inflict excruciating pain, researchers have found that dental drilling dates back 9,000 years.
Primitive dentists drilled nearly perfect holes into live but undoubtedly unhappy patients between 5500 B.C. and 7000 B.C., an article in Thursday's journal Nature reports. Researchers carbon-dated at least nine skulls with 11 drill holes found in a Pakistan graveyard.
That means dentistry is at least 4,000 years older than first thought -- and far older than the useful invention of anesthesia.
The story later offers only a single skeptic to question the idea of prehistoric tooth drilling as primitive dentistry. Oddly enough he offers instead that the drilling was for decorative purposes or to "release evil spirits." The alternative hypothesis that is most obvious to me wasn't even mentioned. Anyone who has seen the movie Marathon Man will have to wonder if perhaps these ancient drillers were merely the first to ask the age old question, is it safe?
How it was done is painful just to think about. Researchers figured that a small bow was used to drive the flint drill tips into patients' teeth. Flint drill heads were found on site. So study lead author Roberto Macchiarelli, an anthropology professor at the University of Poitiers, France, and colleagues simulated the technique and drilled through human (but no longer attached) teeth in less than a minute.
"Definitely it had to be painful for the patient," Macchiarelli said.
No word about discovery of ancient stone toothbrushes or floss made of sabertooth tiger whiskers, so I have nothing to help you threaten your kids in those areas.