A 4,500-year-old grave in the Mexican state of Michoacan has revealed a macabre example of ancient dentistry -- the skull of a young man whose upper teeth had been modified to accept a denture made from the palate and teeth of a wolf or panther.
Although cavities were drilled out of teeth as long as 9,000 years ago, this unexpected modification is the oldest known dentistry discovered in the Americas, predating previously discovered filed teeth and jeweled inlays by at least 1,000 years.
The dentures themselves were not found, but the alterations to the teeth were typical of those associated with such dentures found in later periods, according to archaeologist Tricia Gabany-Guerrero of the University of Connecticut, who announced the find Wednesday.
The 30-year-old man, nicknamed "Huitsiniki," or the "Bald Man" by the Purepecha community in the area, may have suffered severely from the dentures. The filing exposed the pulp of his teeth, and two of them were badly infected. Although the cause of his death is unknown, the team speculates that he died of blood poisoning from the infections.