New insight into secret lives of Neanderthals

Mar 9, 2017

By Helen Briggs

Neanderthals dosed themselves with painkillers and possibly penicillin, according to a study of their teeth.

One sick Neanderthal chewed the bark of the poplar tree, which contains a chemical related to aspirin.

He may also have been using penicillin, long before antibiotics were developed.

The evidence comes from ancient DNA found in the dental tartar of Neanderthals living about 40,000 years ago in central Europe.

Microbes and food stuck to the teeth of the ancient hominins gives scientists a window into the past.

By sequencing DNA preserved in dental tartar, international researchers have found out new details of the diet, lifestyle and health of our closest extinct relatives.

“Their behaviour and their diet looks a lot more sophisticated and a lot more like us in many ways,” said Prof Alan Cooper, director of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.

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4 comments on “New insight into secret lives of Neanderthals

  • From the article above:

    Neanderthals at a cave site in Belgium were prolific meat eaters, dining on rhinoceros and wild sheep supplemented with mushrooms. Others, living further south in Spain, were largely vegans, consuming moss, bark and pine nuts.

    Neanderthal vegans?

    Hmmm… why?



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  • Why are Neanderthals considered a different species? We share 99.7% of our DNA with them. They would have been overwhelmingly similar to archaic Homo Sapiens. Some of the oldest Homo Sapiens skulls (Skhul 5) show that they were unmistakably similar to those of Neanderthals (La Ferrassie 1). Could it be that Archaic Humans and Neanderthals were just a different race or sub species of Humans?



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  • Arham Ghauri #2
    Mar 9, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Why are Neanderthals considered a different species? We share 99.7% of our DNA with them.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0520_030520_chimpanzees.html
    The results suggested that within important sequence stretches of these functionally significant genes, humans and chimps share 99.4 percent identity.

    So a small percentage is significant, but in any case the definitions of “species” and species boundaries are rather rough and ready!

    They would have been overwhelmingly similar to archaic Homo Sapiens. Some of the oldest Homo Sapiens skulls (Skhul 5) show that they were unmistakably similar to those of Neanderthals (La Ferrassie 1). Could it be that Archaic Humans and Neanderthals were just a different race or sub species of Humans?

    A sub-species is possible, as genetics show that limited cross breeding was still possible, so the evolutionary branches had not quite separated as far as genetically isolating the two groups.



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