cavemen BBQ cavemen BBQ By studying the teeth of cavemen, researchers discovered traces of charcoal –– as well as plants and fatty acids from nuts and seeds. (Photo: /Shutterstock)

Preserved cavemen teeth show evidence of world's first indoor BBQ

400,000-year-old tartar on teeth found to contain charcoal, plant-based foods and other surprises.

Researchers have discovered new insights into early man's dining habits – and it's all thanks to a general lack of good dental care during the early paleolithic era.

While studying teeth collected from the Qesem Cave in Israel, researchers from Tel Aviv University – in collaboration with scholars from Spain, the U.K. and Australia – discovered tartar buildup dating back some 400,000 years. The hardened plaque was found to contain traces of plant-based foods, fatty acids from nuts and seeds, and charcoal – evidence that early man had a preference for roasting food in caves.

cavemen teethThe teeth discovered in a cave outside Tel Aviv in Israel were found to contain tartar more than 400,000 years old. (Photo: Israel Hershkovitz/Tel Aviv University)

"This is the first evidence that the world's first indoor BBQs had health-related consequences," Professor Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology said in a statement. "The people who lived in Qesem not only enjoyed the benefits of fire – roasting their meat indoors – but they also had to find a way of controlling the fire, of living with it."

Such exposure, the earliest form of man-made pollution ever discovered, may have had serious health implications for those who inhaled the charcoal fumes on a daily basis. "Progress has a price – and we find possibly the first evidence of this at Qesem Cave 400,000 years ago," added Barkai.

Despite a lack of dentists to assist with removing tartar, early man may not have been completely oblivious to some dental hygiene. In addition to the charcoal and plant elements discovered in the tartar, the scientists also found fibers that may have been used to clean between teeth. In other words, the world's first toothpicks.

The new discovery builds upon a breakthrough from earlier this year that showed how early man went about cutting up his dinner via a variety of flint hand axes and scrapers. With the information gleaned from the prehistoric tartar, the researchers say they've made great strides in understanding the diet of early man.


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