Iceman Otzi had bad teeth

Apr 09, 2013
This is the view of the right side of the rows of teeth (3D reconstruction) -- arrow pointing right: deep carious lesions, arrow pointing left: severe bone loss around the molars Credit: University of Zurich

For the first time, researchers from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich together with colleagues abroad have been able to provide evidence of periodontitis, tooth decay and accident-related dental damage in the ice mummy Ötzi. The latest scientific findings provide interesting information on the dietary patterns of the Neolithic Iceman and on the evolution of medically significant oral pathologies.

The Neolithic mummy Ötzi (approximately 3300 BC) displays an astoundingly large number of oral diseases and dentition problems that are still widespread today. As Prof. Frank Rühli, head of the study, explains, Ötzi suffered from heavy dental abrasions, had several carious lesions – some severe – and had mechanical trauma to one of his front teeth which was probably due to an accident.

Although research has been underway on this important mummy for over 20 years now, the teeth had scarcely been examined. Dentist Roger Seiler from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich has now examined Ötzi's teeth based on the latest data and found that: "The loss of the periodontium has always been a very common disease, as the discovery of Stone Age skulls and the examination of has shown. Ötzi allows us an especially good insight into such an early stage of this disease", explains Seiler. He specializes in examining dental pathologies in earlier eras.

This is the skull of the Iceman seen from the front. The genetic increased distance between the central front teeth as well as the severe dental abrasion can be seen, which led to a loss of more than half of the crowns in the front. Credit: University of Zurich

Advanced periodontitis

The three-dimensional computer tomography reconstructions give an insight into the of the Iceman and show how severely he was suffering from advanced periodontitis. Particularly in the area of the rear molars, Seiler found loss of the periodontal supporting tissue that almost extended to the tip of the root. While Ötzi is scarcely likely to have cleaned his teeth, his abrasive diet contributed significantly to a process of self-cleaning. Nowadays periodontitis is connected to cardiovascular diseases. Interestingly, the Iceman also displays vascular calcification, for which – like in the case of the periodontitis – mainly his genetic make-up was responsible.

The fact that the Iceman suffered from is attributable to his eating more and more starchy foods such as bread and cereal porridge which were consumed more commonly in the Neolithic period because of the rise of agriculture. In addition, the food was very abrasive because of contaminants and the rub-off from the quern, as is demonstrated by the Iceman's abraded . His accident-related dental damage and his other injuries testify to his troubled life at that time. One front tooth has suffered mechanical trauma – the discoloration is still clearly visible – and one molar has lost a cusp, probably from chewing on something, perhaps a small stone in the cereal porridge.

Explore further: Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

More information: Roger Seiler, Andrew I. Spielman, Albert Zink, Frank Rühli. Oral pathologies of the Neolithic Iceman, c.3,300 BC. European Journal of Oral Sciences. April 2013. DOI: 10.1111/eos.12037

Related Stories

Scientists finally determine iceman Otzi's last meal

Jun 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a presentation at the Seventh World Congress on Mummy Studies, researchers from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman revealed that they had finally located the iceman known as Otzi’s ...

One in two Austrians suffers from periodontitis

Jun 08, 2012

Around one in two middle-aged Austrians suffers from periodontitis, a disease that can lead to irreversible damage of the periodontium and, as a result, increase the risk of secondary complications such as ...

Tooth loss, dementia may be linked

Oct 10, 2007

Tooth loss may predict the development of dementia late in life, according to research published in the October issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA).

Recommended for you

Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

Jul 29, 2014

Denmark attracted international attention in 2012 when archaeological excavations revealed the bones of an entire army, whose warriors had been thrown into the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland ...

Dinosaurs doing well before asteroid impact

Jul 29, 2014

A new analysis of fossils from the last years of the dinosaurs concludes that extra-terrestrial impact was likely the sole cause of extinction in most cases.

A word in your ear, but make it snappy

Jul 28, 2014

To most, crocodiles conjure images of sharp teeth, powerful jaws and ferocious, predatory displays – but they are certainly not famous for their hearing abilities. However, this could all change, as new ...

User comments : 0