Human Teeth Worn As Pendants by Prehistoric Turks 8,500 Years Ago
Thu, October 21, 2021

Human Teeth Worn As Pendants by Prehistoric Turks 8,500 Years Ago

Three 8,500-year-old human teeth had been discovered by a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen - Faculty of Humanities at an archeological site in Turkey / Photo by: cla78 via Shutterstock

 

Three 8,500-year-old human teeth had been discovered by a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen - Faculty of Humanities at an archeological site in Turkey. Based on their analysis of their find, two of the teeth were used as jewelry 8,500 years ago.

Their study, which appeared in the Journal of Archeological Science: Reports, detailed that they found the teeth at the Neolithic Çatalhöyük, which is known as Turkey’s stone age settlement. Their discovery is also among the first documented cases of artificially modified human teeth that existed in prehistoric times.

 

Human Teeth Used for Ornamental Purposes in Turkey

The team said that although the use of human teeth as jewelry or pendants has long been archeologically documented in the European Upper Palaeolithic, which is a geologic period with the earliest known evidence of organized settlements, no samples of the same practice has been discovered for the Near East. In geographical terms, the Near East encompasses the transactional region comprising Egypt, Turkey, and Western Asia. 

Out of the three human teeth they found in the archeological site, their radiographic, microscopic, and macroscopic analyses found that only the two had been used as jewelry. The researchers also confirmed that the two pendants were likely extracted from the skeletonized remains of old and mature adults, carefully drilled to be used as jewelry, and worn for a variable period.

The team said that although the use of human teeth as jewelry or pendants has long been archeologically documented in the European Upper Palaeolithic, which is a geologic period with the earliest known evidence of organized settlements / Photo by: R. Takahashi via Shutterstock

 

Micro-Drilled Teeth to Be Used As Beads in a Necklace or Bracelet

First author Scott Haddow, who is also an archeologist by profession, detailed that the two teeth had been micro drilled like beads as stone and animal bones were also found in the archeological site. Only the two showed signs that they were used as ornaments either in bracelets or necklaces. The wear on the objects’ chewing surfaces likewise indicated that they had been extracted from individuals who were between 30 to 50 years old.

Haddow added that their discovery is a rare find because it is “very unlikely” that human teeth were used solely as a pendant or for aesthetic purposes but also carried symbolic meaning. It is also interesting that they found the teeth in a non-burial site because most ancient burials only contained pendants and beads made from animal teeth or bone and other materials.

Purpose of the Artifacts

The researchers believe that the rarity of their find offered new insights about the symbolic importance of human body parts and the funerary customs during the New Stone Age (Neolithic) of areas in the Near East.

A lone eagle toe bone or claw was also recently found from the Foradada Cave in Spain and is believed to be 39,000 years old. What’s surprising is that the fossil is believed to be worn as jewelry or for other symbolic decorations by the Neanderthals. Co-author Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo said that for every new fossil find, it is like a great puzzle in their study and history. Rodríguez-Hidalgo and colleagues believe that the talons may have been used as tools, such as for needling and piercing.

The researchers believe that the rarity of their find offered new insights about the symbolic importance of human body parts and the funerary customs during the New Stone Age (Neolithic) of areas in the Near East / Photo by: Sedat Demir via Shutterstock

 

Explaining Dental Decay in the Concept of Archeology

University of Sydney’s forensic archaeologist Dr. Estelle Lazer, who is not involved in either of the studies, said via Australian Broadcasting Corporation that when skeletons are unearthed, some teeth are usually still in good condition. Lazer explained that in ancient people, the extent of tooth decay will depend on one’s dental hygiene and diet like today. However, after death, the teeth become the “most durable” part of the body. This is why teeth are often found along with ancient skeletons.

So, while tooth decay easily while the person is alive, the process of decay stops once the person is already dead because the bacteria that is causing the decay can also not survive after death. It means that teeth can survive even for “tens of thousands of years,” Lazer continued. Skeletons that are preserved in very wet or dry conditions may likewise survive well.

Teeth also play a significant role today in forensic science. Their durability, even when exposed under high heat, helps authorities to identify people even if there are no other identifications in the body.

Isotope Analysis to Illuminate Historical Events

Meanwhile, Durham University’s Department of Archeology shared that one useful method to learn about what ancient individuals ate and how they moved in their landscape is through isotope analysis or the identification of isotopic signature. It is done by investigating the pattern and timing of enamel maturation in human teeth. It provides a “snapshot” of density changes and maturation process.

The stable isotopes (atoms) that are often used by archeologists are carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and strontium. It was in the 1980s when scholars realized that different ratios of isotopes in the human bones can offer information about the type of diet they consumed. Today, isotopic analysis is used in other fields such as ecology, biology, organic chemistry, and geology.
The discovery made by the University of Copenhagen researchers and the analyses used in the process can help people better understand not just Turkey's culture and history but the development of the human culture in general.