New insights into the diet of Stone Age adolescents revealed through analysis of ancient “chewing gum.”
Research has discovered that the DNA from a type of gum that was popular among Swedish teenagers 10,000 years ago is providing insight into the diet and oral health of the stone age.
The gum wads are composed of chunks of pitch from birch bark, a dark resin resembling tar, and contain distinct bite marks.
The remains were discovered three decades ago alongside bone fragments at the Huseby Klev archaeological site, which is located north of Gothenburg in western Sweden. This site is one of the oldest in the country for human fossils, dating back 9,700 years.
According to Anders Götherström, co-author of the study published in Scientific Reports, hunter-gatherers most likely utilized resin as a form of glue for constructing tools and weapons.
The speaker suggested that it is probable that the objects were chewed either out of enjoyment or because they believed it had medicinal benefits.
Götherström reported that there were multiple examples of chewing gum and it was chewed by both males and females. It appeared that the majority of the gum had been chewed by teenagers, indicating a certain age demographic.
In a study from 2019, the genetic makeup of individuals who had chewed wads of gum was analyzed.
On this occasion, Götherström and his group of paleontologists from Stockholm University were able to confirm, once again through the DNA extracted from the gum, that the adolescent’s diet during the Stone Age consisted of deer, trout, and hazelnuts. There were also traces of apple, duck, and fox found.
Götherström explained that by analyzing human bones, we can obtain human DNA. By specifically focusing on teeth, we can gather even more DNA. Additionally, by studying the remains of food that was previously chewed, we can access DNA that cannot be obtained through any other means.
Furthermore, a single piece of gum chewed by a teenage girl was found to contain a significant amount of bacteria associated with a serious gum infection known as periodontitis.
Götherström mentioned that the gum would likely cause the teenager to lose their teeth soon after chewing it. This would have been painful. The gum bears the imprint of the teenager’s mouth from thousands of years ago. If we want to add a philosophical aspect, it links artifacts, DNA, and humans.