Researchers from the universities of Liverpool and Adelaide conducted an analysis of DNA that had been persevered in dental plaque belonging to four Neanderthal individuals. The study subjects were obtained from two European archaeological sites; Spy in Belgium and El Sidrón in Spain. The remnants reportedly date back 42,000 and 50,000 years ago, respectively.
The analyses of dental plaque may not sound riveting, but the researchers uncovered quite a bit of information. They noted that there were clear differences in dietary patterns, based on where the individuals were discovered. The specimens from Belgium ate a mostly-meat based diet, while the Spaniards were mostly vegetarian.
As the lead author of the report, Dr. Laura Weyrich from the University of Adelaide, explains, "Dental plaque traps microorganisms that lived in the mouth and pathogens found in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, as well as bits of food stuck in the teeth – preserving the DNA for thousands of years. "
"Genetic analysis of this DNA represents a unique window into Neanderthal lifestyle – revealing new details of what they ate, what their health was like and how the environment impacted their behaviour," she states.
This includes discovering how Neanderthals went about treating their own ailments and health issues.
As sources report:
One of the most surprising finds, however, was in a Neanderthal from El Sidrón, who suffered from a dental abscess visible on the jawbone. The plaque showed that he also had an intestinal parasite that causes acute diarrhoea, so clearly he was quite sick. He was eating poplar, which contains the pain killer salicylic acid (the active ingredient of aspirin), and we could also detect a natural antibiotic mould (Penicillium).
In other words, this Neanderthal was more adept at treating his ails independently than most modern humans, and was using a natural antibiotic and a natural painkiller to treat his health issues. Even Neanderthals knew the healing power of plants.
Another researcher, Karen Hardy, published research on the El Sidrón individual and also concluded that he used plant medicine. Speaking about the latest findings, Hardy commented, "There is no doubt that the Neanderthals used plants to treat illnesses, and it also demonstrates once again that they had detailed knowledge of their surroundings and the ability to use plants in a variety of ways."
Evidence of the Neanderthals' use of herbal medicine can be dated back as far as 60,000 years ago, with some discoveries first coming to light in the 1960s and 1970s.
Some recent evidence has even indicated that these ancient ancestors of ours may have actually been smarter than us. For example, recent discoveries have shown that it appears Neanderthals taught early humans how to use tools.
Evidence also indicates that these early ancestors made jewelry, had tools for starting fires, buried their dead, and possibly even their own spoken language -- though its near impossible to prove. More, Neanderthals were bigger and stronger than early humans, and also had bigger brains. It's believed that there may have even been some breeding between humans and Neanderthals. It's entirely plausible that while we may have out-survived them, we didn't necessarily outsmart them.
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