Neanderthal Man and the Ancient Use of Antibiotics


According to a study, published in the journal Nature, led by the Australian DNA Center, in collaboration with the University of Adelaide Dental School and the University of Liverpool, UK, the DNA analysis found on the dental plaque of the ancestor of the Man revealed new information about his behavior, historical evolution and diet.

The researchers concluded, among many things, that Neanderthals used herbal medicines to treat problems such as a headache, and that there were dietary differences between different groups.

“Dental plaque, which attaches microorganisms that live in the mouth, pathogens found in respiratory and gastrointestinal devices, as well as bits of food trapped in the teeth, has preserved the DNA for thousands of years,” explained Laura Weyrich, from The Australian Center for Old DNA.

The genetic analysis of this DNA, which has been trapped in dental plaque, represents a “privileged window” on Neanderthal man’s lifestyle, what he ate, the diseases he suffered, or the environment as a factor that Affected behavior.

The international team analyzed and compared dental plaque samples from four skeletons of Neanderthal Men found in caves in Spy, Belgium, and El Sidrón, Spain, and the age of four ranges between 42,000 and 50,000 years.

“We found that Spy Neanderthals consumed rhinos and wild sheep, accompanied by mushrooms”, said Alan Cooper, director of the Center, adding that those of El Sidrón showed no signs of meat consumption, but of having been consumers of a diet Based on vegetables and seeds.

“One of the most surprising discoveries was made in a Neanderthal of El Sidrón, which had a dental abscess. The plaque showed that he also had an intestinal parasite that caused him acute diarrhea, so he was clearly very sick. He was eating poplar, which contains salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin, to take away the pain, and we also detected a natural antibiotic (penicillin) that we did not find in other specimens”, said the director.

Thus, according to the researcher, Neanderthal Man had a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and therefore self-medicated. However, the most surprising was the use of antibiotics 40,000 years before the discovery of penicillin.

This scientific analysis also allowed us to discover that several disease-causing microbes were already “shared” by ancient humans and that the oral microbial community did not change in recent history.