The oldest false tooth yet seen in Western Europe may have been pulled from the earth during a 2009 archaeological excavation in northern France, reports BBC News.
The poorly preserved skeleton of a 20- to 30-year-old Iron Age woman, unearthed in Le Chene, suggests that an iron pin filled a place normally held by one of her upper incisors. Although it's not possible to confirm, the pin may have held in place a false wood or bone tooth that rotted away.
The woman's remains were part of a third-century B.C., Celtic burial enclosure that contained four adult females. In total, 31 of the woman's teeth were found in their correct anatomical locations, with the iron pin in the space where an incisor would normally have been.
The pin was the same size and shape as the surrounding teeth. "The best hypothesis is that it was a dental prosthesis, or at least, an attempt at one," Guillaume Seguin, who was in charge of the excavation and works with the Bordeaux archaeology firm Archeosphere, told BBC News.
Seguin expressed skepticism about whether the crude prosthesis would have performed well in its job as an implant. Iron tends to corrode in the body, and the third-century B.C. was not exactly a time in history where dental work could have guaranteed sterile conditions.
Lack of a sterile environment means the pin could well have caused an infection that took the woman's life.
But due to the poor state of her remains, there is no way to prove that a cosmetic procedure was the woman's ultimate undoing. The "tooth" may even have been inserted after the woman's death, as part of her burial process.
The false tooth may fill a gap in knowledge of dental procedures performed by early Celtic Gauls, but it's far from the earliest such find. Fake teeth have been discovered that date as far back as 5,500 years ago, in Egypt and the Near East, though most were likely inserted after death, noted the BBC.
Seguin and his co-authors from the University of Bordeaux published their findings in the journal Antiquity.