The Oldest Chewing Gum: 5,000 Years Old

Made of birch bark tar

The punks of the Stone Age were also chewing gum. They did it for sure 5,000-year-old ago, as a piece of chewing gum has been found by Sarah Pickin, 23, an archeology student from the University of Derby.

She discovered the lump of birch bark tar while on a dig in Yli-Ii, western Finland. Neolithic people employed this stuff as an antiseptic against gum infections, but also as a glue for repairing pots. "It's particularly significant because well defined tooth imprints were found on the gum. Birch bark tar contains phenols, which are antiseptic compounds.", said Professor Trevor Brown, Pickin's tutor.

"I was delighted to find the gum and was very excited to learn more about the history. I am keen to work in this area in the future so the experience has stood me in good stead.", said Pickin, one of five British students on a volunteer program at the Kierikki Center on the west coast of Finland.

Pickin also discovered part of an amber ring and a slate arrow head which will be presented to the public at the center after scientific analysis.

Neolithic ("new stone age") people may have chewed gum for its anti-infectious effects, but a spokesman for the British Dental Association stated that chewing sugar free gum after meals increases saliva release, a positive factor against tooth decay.

But don't you think that what we chew today is birch resin. Chewing gum is made traditionally from chicle, a natural latex produced by a tropical evergreen tree native to southern North America and South America. Still, for economy and quality reasons, many modern chewing gums are made of petroleum-based polymers instead of chicle. Nonetheless, chicle is even today the preferred product in some countries, like Japan.

Many other types of gums have been chewed around the world. Ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum, while Native Americans chewed the sap of the spruce trees.


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