The Man Who Died of a Toothache
from the book, "Our Fascinating Earth"

Our Fascinating Earth

The Man Who Died of a Toothache

Because many of today's dental problems are the result of refined foods and sugar, many people believe that prehistoric man, who ate only natural foods and no refined sugar, was free of dental decay. Unfortunately for early man, this was not always true. Here follows an unusual account.

The limestone mass known as Broken Hill in northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia, stands about fifty feet above the surrounding plain and contains numerous caves. One in particular slopes downward for about ninety feet and, when discovered, was almost completely filled with fossil animal bones and cave debris. It was also highly impregnated with ore minerals of lead, zinc, and vanadium and was quickly exploited for its mineral wealth.

In 1921 two miners cutting into relatively soft ore with picks were astonished when they suddenly exposed the skull of a man staring at them through eyeless sockets. Fortunately the skull was preserved in the mine office for scientists to examine. Rhodesian man, as he was later called, had not been buried ceremoniously in the cave upon his death about 100,000 years ago; he had either been thrown there as refuse or carried in by animal.

Of considerable interest was the condition of his teeth. Ten of the fifteen present were in varied stages of dental decay, including several with abscessed roots. Studies of the pathological features of the skull indicate that the septic condition of the mouth had spread sufficiently into the skull to have actually killed him!

Some of the human bones found near the skull showed stages of rheumatic growths. Scientists believe that, if they belonged to the owner of the skull, this disease may also have been related to his dental problems.

Rhodesian man was a primitive type of Neanderthal. In life he must have been a rather powerful man, standing about five feet, ten inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds. This particular individual must have had a frightful disposition and temper, but who could blame him? He has a perennial toothache!