Enlarge / The jaw of the El Sidron individual found to be consuming poplar and Penicillium-containing vegetation. (credit: Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC)
Around 50,000 years ago in Spain, a Neanderthal had a toothache and popped the botanical version of an aspirin. Maybe. Although it’s far from clear-cut, there’s evidence from old teeth that hints at the possibility.
It’s part of a study of Neanderthal diet, courtesy of their poor dental hygiene. Published in Nature, an analysis of preserved dental plaque from three different Neanderthals provides an intriguing glimpse into what they put in their mouths. According to the authors, the analysis points to regionally varied diets and suggests possible medicinal plant use.
But some of the DNA evidence is a little strange, suggesting evidence of species where they really shouldn’t have been 50,000 years ago. There are some good explanations for why this could happen, but, like most exciting results, drawing conclusions from the evidence demands a little caution.
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