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No. 61: Jan-Feb 1989

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Interproximal Grooving Of Teeth

Teeth with peculiar grooves The following illustration appeared recently in a respected science journal. No, it was not a dentistry journal, nor was it an ad for a new toothpaste. It was Current Anthropology.

It seems that some human and near-human skeletons possess teeth with the peculiar grooves shown in the sketch. The skeleton-age range is huge: 1.84 million years to comparatively modern bones 10,000 years old. These teeth are found on several continents. Some archeologists say simply that ancient humans just picked their teeth a lot in order to remove trapped food particles. But the grooves do not seem to be correlated with dental-decay problems. This fact has led to the so- called "cultural" theory, which holds that the picking of teeth was just another bad human habit, probably a sort of stereotype behavior having nothing to do with food caught between the teeth.

(Formicola, Vincenzo; "Interproximal Grooving of Teeth: Additional Evidence and Interpretation," Current Anthropology, 29:663, 1988. Also: Anonymous; "Ancient Tooth Grooves: Take Your Pick," Science News, 134:237, 1988.)

Comment. Could tooth-picking have been a religious rite? Are there cave drawings showing humans picking their teeth? Well, you can see from the Science News title that this publication also had fun with this item. Yet, the geographical and temporal reach of this phenomenon indicate that ancient humans were doing something rather strange for reasons we can only guess at.

From Science Frontiers #61, JAN-FEB 1989. 1989-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987