Tel Aviv University

According to new research out of Israel, human teeth dating back to the Paleolithic era show evidence of manmade pollution in the form of 400,000-year old plaque.

The study—published in Quaternary International and led by Karen Hardy, Ran Barkai, and Avi Gopher—examines the ancient teeth discovered in the Qesem Cave, located close to Tel Aviv. What they found was enlightening, and gross.

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Tel Aviv University

Analysis of the teeth showed that plaque contained, among other things, traces of charcoal from indoor fires, used to prepare caveman-era barbecues.

Charred bones from a prehistoric BBQ
Tel Aviv University

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Barkai said in a press release that this means that Paleolithic humans had to face certain challenges, like, how do you keep charcoal smoke from embedding into your teeth? In his words:

This is the first evidence that the world's first indoor BBQs had health-related consequences… The people who lived in Qesem not only enjoyed the benefits of fire — roasting their meat indoors — but they also had to find a way of controlling the fire — of living with it.

The scientists also found that there was some plant matter in the plaque, suggesting that maybe our prehistoric ancestors were into flossing. Barkai also noted that this could be the oldest proof of human-made pollution. Thanks a lot, early humans.

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Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.