Human Teeth Fossils

Teeth are common to most vertebrates, but mammalian teeth are distinctive in having a variety of shapes and functions; this feature first arose among the Therapsida (mammal-like reptiles) during the Permian. All Therapsid groups with the exception of the mammals are extinct, but each of these groups possessed different tooth patterns, which aids with the classification of fossils. The extant mammalian infraclasses each have a set dental formula. The Eutheria (placental mammals) commonly have three pairs of molars and four premolars per jaw, whereas the Metatheria (marsupials) generally have four pairs of molars and between three or two premolars. Read more ...

In the News ...

There's a Weird Link Between Teeth And The Evolution of Pregnancy   Science Alert - November 27, 2022
Given how critical brain growth is to early human development, and head size, in turn, influences the size of our jaws, researchers suspected teeth may hold some valuable information on our ancestors' pregnancies. Teeth begin to form at around 6 weeks of gestation but don't develop their hardened exterior layers until the second trimester. From there, the growing layers can retain records of their life history, from weaning to sexual activity.

Advanced technology sheds new light on evolution of teeth   PhysOrg - July 9, 2020
The evolution of human teeth began among ancient armored fishes more than 400 million years ago. Teeth are made of dentine, a tissue which in humans is only found in teeth. However, in sharks, the entire body surface is covered with tooth-like scales made of dentine. Fossils show that similar dentine structures were present on the body surface before jaws even evolved.

The Teeth of Early Neanderthals May Indicate the Species’ Lineage Is Older Than Thought   Smithsonian - May 16, 2019
Some of the oldest known Neanderthal remains include teeth that could push back the split with modern human lineages, but not all scientists are convinced.

Tooth fossils fill 6-million-year-old gap in primate evolution   PhysOrg - May 15, 2019
Researchers have used fossilized teeth found near Lake Turkana in northwest Kenya to identify a new monkey species—a discovery that helps fill a 6-million-year gap in primate evolution.

Ancient tooth shows Mesolithic ancestors were fish and plant eaters   PhysOrg - June 1, 2018
Analysis of the skeletal remains of a Mesolithic man found in a cave on a Croatian island has revealed microscopic fish and plant remains in the dental plaque of a tooth – a first-time discovery for the period and region. Previous analysis of Mesolithic skeletal remains in this region has suggested a more varied Mediterranean diet consisting of terrestrial, freshwater and marine food resources, not too dissimilar to what modern humans eat today. Although this recent find is the only example of a skeleton that provides evidence of both fish and plants in the diet of early people in this region, the researchers argue that the discovery provides a significant insight into the lifestyle of Adriatic and Mediterranean foragers.

Earliest Dental Fillings Discovered in 13,000-Year-Old Skeleton   Live Science - April 18, 2017
You might wince at the sight of your dentist holding an electric drill over your mouth. But, you can be thankful she's not using a stone tool instead. That is what the most advanced dental care looked like thousands of years ago. By studying teeth at archaeological sites, scientists think that prehistoric humans came up with a variety of resourceful solutions to dental problems: people drilled out cavities, sealed crown fractures with beeswax, used toothpicks to relieve inflamed gums and extracted rotten teeth. Now, researchers report that they've discovered what is perhaps the oldest known example of tooth-filling at an ice age site in Italy.

Ancient Britons' teeth reveal people were 'highly mobile' 4,000 years ago   PhysOrg - October 8, 2016
Archaeologists have created a new database from the teeth of prehistoric humans found at ancient burial sites in Britain and Ireland that tell us a lot about their climate, their diet and even how far they may have traveled. The paper says most of the teeth in the collection date back to Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods (from 2500 to 1500 BC) and the analysis.

Earliest evidence of dental cavity manipulation found   PhysOrg - July 20, 2015
The team describes their work on studying the tooth from a 14,000 year old human skeleton uncovered back 1988, and the techniques they used to show that the marks they found were caused by human intervention. They studied the surface inside the cavity with an electron microscope - that revealed grooves and ridges that appeared to be caused by scraping.

Four hundred million year old fish fossil has earliest example of teeth   PhysOrg - June 24, 2015
A pair of researchers has found what appears to be the earliest known example of a creature sporting teeth. After much research, scientists have come to believe that modern teeth, regardless of species, originated from scales on fish - this new research appears to confirm that theory and also offers some new insights into how it was that teeth came to exist.

400,000-year-old dental tartar provides earliest evidence of manmade pollution   PhysOrg - June 17, 2015
Most dentists recommend a proper teeth cleaning every six months to prevent, among other things, the implacable buildup of calculus or tartar - hardened dental plaque. Routine calculus buildup can only be removed through the use of ultrasonic tools or dental hand instruments. But what of 400,000-year-old dental tartar? Tel Aviv University researchers, in collaboration with scholars from Spain, the U.K. and Australia, have uncovered evidence of food and potential respiratory irritants entrapped in the dental calculus of 400,000-year-old teeth at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv, the site of many major discoveries from the late Lower Paleolithic period.

Fossil Teeth Suggest Humans Played Role in Neanderthal Extinction   Live Science - April 23, 2015
Ancient teeth from Italy suggest that the arrival of modern humans in Western Europe coincided with the demise of Neanderthals there, researchers said. This finding suggests that modern humans may have caused Neanderthals to go extinct, either directly or indirectly, scientists added. Neanderthals are the closest extinct relatives of modern humans. Recent findings suggest that Neanderthals, who once lived in Europe and Asia, were closely enough related to humans to interbreed with the ancestors of modern humans - about 1.5 to 2.1 percent of the DNA of anyone outside Africa is Neanderthal in origin. Recent findings suggest that Neanderthals disappeared from Europe between about 41,000 and 39,000 years ago.

Malocclusion and dental crowding arose 12,000 years ago with earliest farmers   Science Daily - February 6, 2015
Hunter-gatherers had almost no malocclusion and dental crowding, and the condition first became common among the world's earliest farmers some 12,000 years ago in Southwest Asia. Hunter-gatherers had almost no malocclusion and dental crowding, and the condition first became common among the world's earliest farmers some 12,000 years ago in Southwest Asia. By analysing the lower jaws and teeth crown dimensions of 292 archaeological skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia and Europe, from between 28,000-6,000 years ago, an international team of scientists have discovered a clear separation between European hunter-gatherers, Near Eastern/Anatolian semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and transitional farmers, and European farmers, based on the form and structure of their jawbones.

Got Cavities? Ancient Teeth Reveal Bacteria's Evolution   Live Science - July 23, 2014
Ouch! The bacterium that causes toothaches has become more diverse over the course of human history, a new study finds. Streptococcus mutans is a nasty little bacterium that lurks in the mouth, frequently causing tooth decay and cavities. Now, a new analysis of the bacteria's DNA extracted from human teeth dating back to the Bronze Age reveals the bug has been mutating randomly over the years, becoming more diverse as the human population grows, perhaps because it has more mouths to fill. The study of S. mutans is important, because understanding its development should provide clues as to what factors trigger its evolution, said study researcher Marc Simón, a professor at the Universitat Autėnoma de Barcelona in Spain.

Grave find may be Western Europe's earliest false tooth   BBC - May 28, 2014
Archaeologists have identified what could be remains of the earliest false tooth found in Western Europe. The dental implant comes from the richly-furnished timber burial chamber of an Iron Age woman that was excavated in Le Chene, northern France.

'Homo' is the only primate whose tooth size decreases as its brain size increases   PhysOrg - April 6, 2014
Andalusian researchers have discovered a curious characteristic of the members of the human lineage, classed as the genus Homo: they are the only primates where, throughout their 2.5-million year history, the size of their teeth has decreased alongside the increase in their brain size.

Paleo Diet May Have Included Some Sweets, Carbs   Live Science - January 6, 2014
The teeth from skeletons unearthed in the Grotte des Pigeons cave in Morocco reveal evidence of extensive tooth decay and other dental problems, likely a result of their acorn-rich diet. Ancient hunter-gatherers from the area that is now Morocco had cavities and missing teeth, a new study finds. The rotten teeth on the ancient skeletons, which date back to about 15,000 years ago, probably resulted from a carbohydrate-rich diet full of acorns. The findings show that at least some ancient populations were loading up on carbs thousands of years before the cultivation of grain took hold

Cavemen Bones Yield Oldest Modern Human DNA   Live Science - June 29, 2012
What may be the oldest fragments of the modern human genome found yet have now been revealed - DNA from the 7,000-year-old bones of two cavemen unearthed in Spain, researchers say. These findings suggest the cavemen there were not the ancestors of the people found in the region today, investigators added. Scientists have recently sequenced the genomes of our closest extinct relatives, the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. When it came to our lineage, the oldest modern human genomes recovered yet came from Otzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Alps in 1991. Researchers have salvaged DNA from even older human cells, but this comes from the mitochondria that generate energy for our bodies, and not from the nucleus where our chromosomes are housed. (Mitochondrial DNA is passed down only by mothers.)

World's First Known Toothache Revealed in Ancient Reptile   Live Science - April 19, 2011
An elderly reptile living approximately 275 million years ago in what is now Oklahoma was probably walking around with a throbbing mouth, suggests a new study finding evidence of what may be the world's first known toothache. The find predates the previous record-holder (another land vertebrate with dental disease) by nearly 200 million years. The newly discovered tooth infection may have been the result of animals adapting to life on land after living in the sea for so long

Ancient Gem-Studded Teeth Show Skill of Early Dentists -   National Geographic - May 18, 2009
The glittering "grills" of some hip-hop stars aren't exactly unprecedented. Sophisticated dentistry allowed Native Americans to add bling to their teeth as far back as 2,500 years ago, a new study says. Ancient peoples of southern North America went to "dentists" among the earliest known to beautify their chompers with notches, grooves, and semiprecious gems, according to a recent analysis of thousands of teeth examined from collections in Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (such as the skull above, found in Chiapas, Mexico). Scientists don't know the origin of most of the teeth in the collections, which belonged to people living throughout the region, called Mesoamerica, before the Spanish conquests of the 1500s. But it's clear that people mostly men from nearly all walks of life opted for the look.

New Mammal Fossil Sheds Light on Teeth Evolution -   National Geographic - October 31, 2007
A newly discovered species of fossilized mammal from the Jurassic era shows that the basic tooth template shared by all mammals today evolved independently at least twice in the past. The find also adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that early mammals were much more diverse than previously thought. Fossilized skeletal remains of the new species, Pseudotribos robustus, were found recently in 165-million-year-old lakebeds in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China.

Ancient Mammal Had Modern Teeth   Live Science - October 31, 2007
The fossils of an ancient creature resembling a small opossum and equipped with modern-looking teeth suggest our furry ancestors were far more diverse in the age of dinosaurs than previously thought. The story of the earliest mammals is a story of their teeth. By tracing their evolution in the rich fossil record of the Mesozoic, we can understand how these cutting and grinding teeth evolved over and over again. Dubbed Pseudotribos robustus, the creature was discovered in 165 million-year-old lakebeds corresponding to the Jurassic Period in Northern China. It measured about 5 inches (12 centimeters) in length and weighed between 20 to 30 grams (.04 to .07 pounds). The animal likely fed on worms and insects and lived above ground, although it had strong limbs and would have been capable of "power digging," scientists say.

'First west Europe tooth' found  BBC - June 30, 2007
Scientists in Spain say that they have found a tooth from a distant human ancestor that is more than one million years old. The tooth, a pre-molar, was discovered on Wednesday at the Atapuerca site in northern Spain's Burgos Province. It represented western Europe's "oldest human fossil remain. Several caves containing evidence of prehistoric human occupation have been found in Atapuerca. In 1994 fossilised remains called Homo antecessor (Pioneer Man) - believed to date back 800,000 years - were unearthed there.

Researchers uncover earliest dental work in this hemisphere  PhysOrg - June 14, 2006
Thousands of years before screen idols began beautifying themselves with cosmetic dentistry ancient Mexicans were getting ceremonial dentures. Researchers report that they found a 4,500-year-old burial in Mexico that had the oldest known example of dental work in the Americas.

Researchers uncover earliest dental work in this hemisphere   PhysOrg - June 14, 2006
Thousands of years before screen idols began beautifying themselves with cosmetic dentistry ancient Mexicans were getting ceremonial dentures. Researchers report they found a 4,500-year-old burial in Mexico that had the oldest known example of dental work in the Americas.

Stone age man used dentist drill   BBC - April 6, 2006
Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge has yielded an impressive pile of fossilized bones and stone tools that may reshuffle the evolutionary tree of the early hominids and shed light on the behavior of some of human kind's earliest ancestors. The gorge is most noted for the abundant fossil discoveries of esteemed anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey from 1959 to 1976 which helped shape modern understanding of human origins. The team that carried out the work say close examination of the teeth shows the tool was "surprisingly effective" at removing rotting dental tissue. A total of eleven drilled crowns were found, with one example showing evidence of a complex procedure involving tooth enamel removal followed by carving of the cavity wall.

Fossil key to human origins   BBC - February 26, 2003
Palaeontologists say a new fossil find from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania could simplify our understanding of the origin of humans. The remains of the 1.8-million-year-old hominid are said to rank among the best specimens yet discovered of the earliest members of our genus, Homo. Ten years later Louis Leakey's son Richard found a more complete H. habilis skull in northern Kenya, showing the species ranged across much of the Rift Valley of eastern Africa.

Teeth - Dentistry