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The teeth of a prehistoric fetus give us information about the last months of a mother and child, who lived 27.000 years BP

In this study, synchrotron and laboratory X-ray computed microtomography were combined to study the teeth of a fetus found in the pelvic area of the skeleton of a young girl. The fossil records were discovered in the “Ostuni 1” burial site (Puglia, Italy) and dated back over 27,000 years.


    A. Nava et. al; Scientific Reports, 7 (2017) 9427.

By analysing the still forming teeth of the baby, it has been possible to obtain information about the health condition of the mother during the last months of pregnancy, to establish the gestational age of the fetus, and also to identify some specificities of the embryonal development.For the first time, it has been possible to reconstruct life and death of an ancient fetus and, at the same time, to shed light on its mother's health. Dental enamel is a sort of biological archive that constantly tracks periods of good and bad health, while forming. Prenatal enamel, which grows during intrauterine life, reports the mother's history as well. Three still-forming incisors, belonging to the fetus, have been visualized and analyzed.
The preliminary microtomography studies on the mandible of the fetus, realized at Tomolab have been crucial to study the still-forming incisor contained within it.  At that point, thanks to the unique properties of synchrotron radiation and using a specifically-developed methodology, a high resolution 3D analysis has been carried out on the three teeth at the SYRMEP beamline. This approach, allowed to carry out a virtual histological analysis of the precious fossil teeth, revealing the finest structures of the dental enamel in a non-destructive.

The virtual histological analysis showed that the mother’s and baby's death occurred between the 31st and 33rd gestational weeks. Measurements also pointed out the occurrence of three severe physiological stresses that affected both individuals during the last two and a half months of pregnancy. This was highlighted by the presence of microscopic stress markers in the dental enamel, which are usually formed after stressful events as a consequence of an altered secretion. Finally, in line wtith previous studies of ancient Romans, the present results indicate an accelerated fetal development in the past

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Virtual histological assessment of the prenatal life history and age at death of the Upper Paleolithic fetus from Ostuni (Italy), A. Nava, A. Coppa, D. Coppola, L. Mancini, D. Dreossi, F. Zanini, F. Bernardini, C. Tuniz, L. Bondioli, Scientific Reports, 7 (2017) 9427, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-09773-2.
Last Updated on Monday, 22 January 2018 10:30