One of the hinge points in human history was the invention of agriculture. It led to large communities, monumental architecture and complex societies. It also led to tooth decay.
When hunter-gatherers started adding grains and starches to their diet, it brought about the "age of cavities." At least that's what a lot of people thought. But it turns out that even before agriculture, what hunter-gatherers ate could rot their teeth.
The evidence comes from a cave in Morocco — the Cave of the Pigeons, it's called — where ancient people lived and died between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago. These were hunters and gatherers; they didn't grow stuff. And what was astonishing to scientists who've studied the cave people was the condition of their teeth.
"Basically, nearly everybody in the population had caries," or tooth decay, says Louise Humphrey, a paleo-anthropologist with the Natural History Museum in London.
Anthropologists say early humans who hunted and gathered had longer jaws to hold all those teeth.
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Humphrey says 94 percent of the more than 50 people from the cave she studied had serious tooth decay. "I was quite surprised by that," says Humphrey. "I haven't seen that extent of caries in other ancient populations.