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Neanderthals may have medicated with penicillin and painkillers

Neanderthals may have medicated with penicillin and painkillers

New Scientist

Image: Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC

What a difference 1000 kilometres make. Neanderthals living in prehistoric Belgium enjoyed their meat – but the Neanderthals who lived in what is now northern Spain seem to have survived on an almost exclusively vegetarian diet.

This is according to new DNA analysis that also suggests sick Neanderthals could self-medicate with naturally occurring painkillers and antibiotics, and that they shared mouth microbiomes with humans – perhaps exchanged by kissing.

Neanderthals didn’t clean their teeth particularly well – which is lucky for scientific investigators. Over time, plaque built up into a hard substance called dental calculus, which still clings to the ancient teeth even after tens of thousands of years.

Researchers have already identified tiny food fragments in ancient dental calculus to get an insight into the diets of prehistoric hominins. Now Laura Weyrich at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and her colleagues have shown that dental calculus also carries ancient DNA that can reveal both what Neanderthals ate and which bacteria lived in their mouths. Read more at newscientist.com…