Science helps fill dental details of ancient ancestors

Acorns helped rot our ancestors teeth Credit: PA

Our ancient ancestors may have suffered from painful tooth decay thanks to their love of prehistoric junk food, according to scientists.

Teeth from 52 skeletons dating back between 13,700 and 15,000 years showed evidence of widespread decay, with only three individuals showing no sign of cavities.

Scientists from Cambridge believe the cause of their molar misery was a diet largely dependent on wild acorns and pine nuts.

Both contain high levels of fermentable carbohydrates that are especially destructive when they lodge in teeth because of the oral bacteria they attract.

Relying on harvesting abundant wild nuts may also have led the hunter gatherers to live a more sedentary lifestyle than was previously thought.

The skeletons were recovered from Grotte des Pigeons, a cave system at Taforalt, Morocco - a site containing a plethora of preserved Stone Age remains.

Together with humans bones, scientists have found charred remains of foods that would have been cooked and eaten by the cave residents.

"We use the charred fragments to identify plants that were carried back to the cave including foods items, such as acorns and pine nuts, and grasses that were used to make baskets," said palaeobotanist Dr Jacob Morales, another member of the team from Cambridge University.

The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were unexpected because tooth decay is strongly associated with agriculture.