Early Appointments


It wasn’t enough that Stone Age people had to live in caves without electricity and central heating and fight ferocious animals with spears for their dinner. They also had to go to the dentist.


We have this on the authority of Roberto Macchiarelli, of the University of Poitiers in France. “Working in a Neolithic graveyard in what is now Pakistan,” the Washington Post reports, Dr. Macchiarelli and his colleagues “found 11 human teeth that had holes carefully drilled in them. The teeth are 7,500 to 9,000 years old, making them thousands of years older than any previous evidence of dentistry.”


Thanks to Dr. Macchiarelli, we have a new picture of a prehistoric tribe—shaggy-haired, bearded men dressed in skins, careful about their dental hygiene and flashing smiles like a toothpaste advertisement.


These men faced sabertooth tigers and savage bears as a regular thing, but I suppose they shrank from going to the dentist just as we do.


I should imagine that Neolithic dentists had to be more careful with their drilling than today’s practitioners. You don’t want to give pain to a patient who has a stone axe lying across his lap.


What do you suppose they used as an anesthetic when they pulled a tooth? A smart rap on the skull with a lynx’s femur might have done the trick.


Did patients have to wait forever for an appointment, as we do today? “I’m sorry, we have nothing in 6706 B.C. The earliest the doctor can see you is 6703 B.C.”


We can imagine a prehistoric wife reminding her husband, as he leaves their cave of a morning, “Don’t forget to see Dr. Gark today, Iglok.” Or a man saying to his friend, “Sorry, Gargesh, I can’t go with you on that mammoth hunt. I have a dental appointment.”


All this gives a familiar flavor to Neolithic life that I wouldn’t have imagined before reading the article. It’s quite touching, in a way, and I look forward to hearing of Dr. Macchiarelli’s future discoveries.



(Washington Post, April 10, 2006, reporting on a paper published in the April 6, 2006, issue of the journal Nature.)