Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

What Sharp Teeth You Have!

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

What Sharp Teeth You Have!

Article excerpt

A MAN FOUND UNDER twelve feet of volcanic ash in Michoacan, Mexico, appears to be the earliest dental patient in the Americas. Scientists estimate that approximately forty-five hundred years ago, he suffered through multiple painful procedures to have his upper front teeth filed down to make way for a denture, most likely the palate of a jaguar or wolf. The interdisciplinary and international team of researchers--led by University of Connecticut Professor Tricia Gabany-Guerrero--has uncovered clues as to who this man was and why he would have undergone such extensive dental modification.

The man's remote burial site in the volcanic highlands of west-central Mexico might have gone undiscovered if not for the interest of the local Purepecha residents from the Comunidad Indigena de Nuevo Parangaricutiro. They discovered a series of vivid cliff paintings in the shadow of the Paricutin volcano and encouraged the scientific community to come and study them. The dental patient was accidentally uncovered while Gabany-Guerrero and her colleagues were excavating the site in search of the tools and paint used to produce the paintings. Much to their surprise they found the remains of a man wedged between two very large boulders. "He really astounded us and his skull was oriented toward these paintings," Gabany-Guerrero says.

Data taken from the skull, hand, leg, and foot bones suggest that the man was between twenty-eight and thirty-two years old, was in good health, and stood five feet tall. Even though he lived in a harsh environment at an altitude of 8,860 feet, his bones show that he lived a leisurely life, with little physical labor. Researchers say that the dental modification, apparent lack of strenuous activity, and the location of the burial in front of a cliff wall indicate that the man held special status in his community. …

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