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News / December 3, 2008

Dirty teeth reveal ancient diet

by Guy Hiscott

Researchers in Peru are getting a more detailed understanding of what people ate thousands of years ago in, thanks to poor dental hygiene.

Dental plaque – scraped from the teeth of people who lived as much as 9,200 years ago – revealed traces of cultivated crops, according to a recent report.

The crops these ancient people ate included squash and beans, peanuts and a local tree-borne fruit known as pacay, according to experts at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the National Museum of Natural History, and Vanderbilt University.

They studied 39 teeth from six to eight individuals.

Found in northern Peru’s Nanchoc Valley, the teeth were uncovered in the remains of round house structures in a settlement dated to 9,200 to 5,500 years ago.