9,500-year-old gum reveals ancient humans suffered from ‘remarkable’ diseases
Researchers recently spent some time chewing on prehistoric pieces of gum that were found in Sweden.
Their analysis revealed a diverse diet and “remarkable” dental disease in early humans in Scandinavia, according to a study published Jan. 18 in the journal Scientific Reports.
The study was conducted on three pieces of chewed bitumen, dating back about 9,500 years, found on the island of Orost, located on the western coast of Sweden.
The ancient balls were found three decades ago along with stone tools, according to a press release from Stockholm University. Through DNA analysis, they were linked to three teenagers, who were likely camping, hunting and fishing in the area.
DNA found on the pieces – the oldest human genetic material known from Scandinavia – indicates that the hunter-gatherer group had poor oral hygiene.
“We have reconstructed several ancient bacterial genomes and found notable amounts of oral pathogens,” the researchers said.
Streptococcus bacteria, which can lead to tooth decay, was present on the chewed gum. An abundance of other bacteria, incl Actinomycetes and Treponema was also found.
The researchers said that these results are consistent with what is known about the ancient population of Sweden.
““Mesolithic population density was low, with limited possibilities for the spread of epidemic microbes among humans, but it does not restrict the presence of bacteria from sources other than humans, such as those that cause systemic diseases including infective endocarditis,” the researchers said. “TWider use of teeth as tools is likely to increase the risk of gingivitis, which is caused by oral microbes.
In addition, traces of various plants and animals were observed on the chewed gum, indicating that it had been recently consumed.
The researchers said DNA sequences from red fox, trout, red deer, apple and hazelnuts were all observed, reflecting a diet consisting of terrestrial and marine life.
The findings provide an “astonishing” window into the lives of “a small group of hunter-gatherers on the Scandinavian west coast,” Anders Gutherström, one of the study’s authors, said in a press release.
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