Archaeological site yields dental surprise

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer

Thousands of years before screen idols began beautifying themselves
with cosmetic dentistry ancient Mexicans were getting ceremonial

Researchers report Wednesday that they found a 4,500-year-old burial
in Mexico that had the oldest known example of dental work in the

The upper front teeth of the remains had been ground down so they
could be mounted with animal teeth, possibly wolf or panther teeth,
for ceremonial purposes, according to researchers led by Tricia
Gabany-Guerrero of the University of Connecticut.

“It’s like he was using the mouth of some other animal in his mouth,”
explained James Chatters, an archaeologist and paleontologist with
AMEC Earth and Environmental Inc. in Seattle, Wash., and a member of
the research team.

Such modifications, typically using beasts of prey, became more
common centuries later in the Maya culture, Chatters said in a
telephone interview, but this is the earliest example that has been

The individual, aged 28 to 32, would not have been able to bite with
his front teeth but appears to have been well fed nonetheless,
Chatters said. The body indicated he didn’t do hard work, perhaps
having been an important person in society.

Found in the Michoacan area, the body had been placed on a large rock
with another rock on top of it, Chatters said.

“The teeth were filed down so much that their pulp cavities were
exposed, leading to an infection,” Gabany-Guerrero said in a statement.

“During the Late Post Classic period, shortly before the Spanish
came, we have seen evidence of insertion of turquoise and filed teeth
in different forms, but this is the earliest evidence of a dental
modification by about one thousand years,” she said.

The researchers said they found rock art and symbols related to other
ancient cultures in the region including calendar symbols.

In addition to the teeth they found pieces of skull and bones from
his hands, legs and feet. There was no indication of physical
problems and he did not suffer from ailments such as arthritis.

The cause of death was not clear but the researchers said there had
been active infections in two teeth.

Primary funding for the research came from the National Geographic
Society with added support from foundations, academic and
governmental organizations in Mexico and the United States.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Gary C. Daniels

Gary C. Daniels is an award-winning, Emmy-nominated television, video and multimedia writer and producer. He has a M.A. degree in Communications from Georgia State University in Atlanta, a B.F.A. degree in TV Production from the Savannah College of Art and Design and an A.A. degree in Art from the College of Coastal Georgia. He has appeared on the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Science Channel and History Channel. His History Channel appearance became the highest-rated episode in the network's history. He has a passion for Native American history and art. He is the founder and publisher of

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