Lola lived 5700 years ago and loved to chew prehistoric gum. The latter was found, perfectly preserved, by Danish researchers who extracted from it a myriad of information about Lola’s life.
Credits: Tom Björklund.
She lived at the present site of Syltholm, on the Island of Lolland, Denmark, 5,700 years before our era. Nicknamed “Lola” in echo to where she lived, she had black hair, blue eyes and dark skin. She liked duck and hazelnut. Finally, if her age is still unknown, she probably had mononucleosis. All its information comes from a simple prehistoric chewing gum of just a few centimetres perfectly preserved. Archaeologists at the University of Copenhagen have extracted Lola’s entire genome from the DNA left in her saliva nearly 6,000 years ago – a first! At that time, during the Neolithic period, Homo sapiens was still only a nomadic hunter-gatherer. To build some tools, these hunters used birch tar, obtained after firing pieces of birch bark. Once moistened or chewed, this sticky modelling clay became as malleable as Patafix. Scientists suborned that prehistoric men could also use it as a chewing gum, it is now confirmed.
Artist’s view of Lola, a prehistoric girl whose portrait was inspired by genetic information (Credits: Tom Björklund).
This primitive chewing gum would probably help them clean their teeth, alleviate hunger or even satisfy a simple taste pleasure. On the fossilized piece of chewing gum, researchers also identified several bacteria and viruses. If the majority of these microbes were harmless (we then speak of commensal bacteria, those that make up our microbiota), some of them could have caused diseases in Lola: Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacterium that causes periodontitis, bacteria related to pneumonia and Epstein-Barr virus, responsible for mononucleosis.
Writing was well born at that time but in the Middle East, therefore in a completely different part of the world. Thus, in the absence of written records relating the lives of these prehistoric populations, this incongruous discovery is invaluable for archaeologists trying to better understand their living conditions and behaviour. In addition, the presence of these microbes gives them more information about the relationship between humans and their pathogens. “Our ancestors lived in a very different environment and had a very different lifestyle and diet than we do. Knowing the composition of their microbiota is of great interest in relation to current research on it, said Hannes Schrober, one of the authors of the study published in Nature Communications, in a statement. This discovery will help us better understand how pathogens have evolved and spread over time, how they are more virulent in a particular environment and how they might behave in the future. »