Identified: They Mysterious Contents of the Cave Of Teeth in Laos.
Above Photo – Oxford University Museum of Natural History
I was originally alerted to the Cave of Teeth in Laos, after suggestions it may have been used during the Secret War as a prison which may have held American POWs. (See: http://peteralanlloyd.com/a-visit-to-the-mysterious-cave-of-teeth-in-laos/)
However, the remarkable, and clearly ancient contents of the Cave of Teeth had me stumped, and having drilled down through my dental contacts, who were no help, I decided to bite the bullet and contact the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to see if they could help with identifications.
The museum is a world away from this, the display cases in the Cave of Teeth:
Nonetheless, I received a very helpful reply from the collections manager of this fantastic museum, Malgosia Nowak-Kemp, who expressed interest in the cave and its teeth, but said the lack of clarity in the photos and the lack of scale, as well as having few comparative collections of mammals from Laos in Oxford, made definitive identifications of the teeth somewhat difficult, although she was able to identify a number of teeth in my photos.
I have added the below photographs for general identification only. They may not be the exact animals mentioned by Malgosia Nowak-Kemp, who said in her email:
“However, I can certainly say that:
– There is a tooth of an Asian elephant – Elephas maximus
– a collection of teeth belonging to the family Suidae, so in the context of Laos that must be Sus scrofa or Sus bucculentus.
Judging by the selenodont dentition, with the increased number and size of cutting surfaces, the majority of teeth belonged to herbivorous animals.
Some of the teeth are clearly hypsodont, where the teeth have very high crowns like in horses, cows and deer. I could not see any teeth belonging to carnivora, but I am sure there should be a few amongst this mass, just not very visible in the images.
So, in conclusion: an elephant, a suid, one of the Bos (Gaur, Banteng, Kouprey) and the rest belonging to one or any of the following genera:
I asked was it possible to say whether the teeth were prehistoric or modern, and Malgosia told me it was impossible to tell from the photos, because teeth are the only parts of the body that can survive for millions of years without any change. Whereas bones can turn into fossils, teeth can survive for a long time in their original form.
So, now we know…
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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