Does it seem that Neanderthals keep getting smarter while modern humans keep getting dumber? Get ready for more evidence to support the idea that at least one of those remote ancestors we used to refer to as Ugg should have been called Doctor Ugg. Analysis of a Neanderthal’s jawbone found in Spain shows that he treated the pain of his abscessed tooth with primitive forms of aspirin and penicillin.
Certainly, our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination.
Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) and co-author of the study published in Nature, aggress that Neanderthals need to be given more respect. His team of international researchers removed dental plaque from a pair of Neanderthals from Spy Cave in Belgium and two from El Sidron Cave in Spain.
Their original intent was to use the plaque to determine their diets. That found that the Belgian Neanderthal’s went paleo – woolly rhino, sheep and mushrooms – while the Spanish ones were vegetarians, eating primarily pine nuts, moss, mushrooms and tree bark. This makes sense considering El Sidron was in a dense forest area while the Spy Cave was in a grassland suited for hunting big animals.
What was surprising to the researchers was that the younger El Sidron Neanderthal used plants for more than just food. His jawbone was eaten away by a tooth abscess and the plaque showed an intestinal parasite that caused diarrhea. It also showed evidence of an antibiotic fungus called Penicillium and particles of a poplar tree that contained salicylic acid – the active ingredient in today’s aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).
Apparently, Neanderthals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and seem to be self-medicating.
So, some 50,000 years before the “official” discoveries of penicillin and aspirin, at least one Neanderthal was not waiting for the “official” discovery of doctors and health insurance and instead tried to treat his medical problems with medicinal plants.
If these Neanderthals were so smart – smart enough to use painkillers and antibiotics – why did they go extinct? Was it because homo sapiens invented childproof bottles and wouldn’t share? Is that little bit of Neanderthal DNA left in humans the force behind medical marijuana and mushrooms? Thanks, Doctor Ugg!