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August 17, 2023

Did You Know Ancient Mayans Used to Place Jewels on Their Teeth?

Found in Chiapas, Mexico this is a skeleton dating back nearly 2500 years ago. Apparently, after examination of teeth it seemed to be a common phenomenon to beautify ones teeth by adding gems and diamonds. This was done by mostly men throughout the region of Mesoamerica. Surprisingly enough this look had nothing to do with status it was more for fashion than anything according to some anthropologists.

The glittering “grills” of some hip-hop stars aren’t exactly unprecedented. Sophisticated dentistry allowed Native Americans to add bling to their teeth as far back as 2,500 years ago.

Ancient peoples of southern North America went to “dentists”—among the earliest known—to beautify their chompers with notches, grooves, and semiprecious gems, according to a recent analysis of thousands of teeth examined from collections in Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (such as the skull above, found in Chiapas, Mexico).

Scientists don’t know the origin of most of the teeth in the collections, which belonged to people living throughout the region, called Mesoamerica, before the Spanish conquests of the 1500s. But it’s clear that people—mostly men—from nearly all walks of life opted for the look.

In fact, the royals of the day—such as the Red Queen, a Maya mummy found in a temple at Palenque in what is now Mexico—don’t have teeth decorations. Other evidence of early Mesoamerican dentistry—including a person who had received a ceremonial denture—has also been found.

The early dentists used a drill-like device with a hard stone such as obsidian, which is capable of puncturing bone. It’s possible some type of [herb based] anesthetic was applied prior to drilling to blunt any pain.

The ornamental stones—including jade—were attached with an adhesive made out of natural resins, such as plant sap, which was mixed with other chemicals and crushed bones.

The dentists likely had a sophisticated knowledge of tooth anatomy. For example, they knew how to drill into teeth without hitting the pulp inside. They didn’t want to generate an infection or provoke the loss of a tooth or break a tooth.


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