A recent study published in the journal Nature suggests that Neanderthals used self-medication to treat these pains. The analysis of the traces of DNA contained in the dental plaque of four fossils indeed prove that our former cousin was already treated with aspirin 48,000 years ago.
A few days ago you suffered from a severe toothache. So maybe you ran to the bathroom to swallow a painkiller or maybe you used the good old clove method to calm the pain? Or maybe you bathed your inflamed tooth or gum straight from the whiskey? There’s nothing like it to ease the pain. At least, temporarily. 48,000 years ago, Neanderthal relied instead on plants to cure his abscess. Everyone has their own method. In any case, this is what recent analyzes carried out on the fossils of four old teeth suggest, thus revealing one of the first traces of self-medication.
In a study published in the journal Nature, Australian researchers have indeed shown that those who surveyed the Earth between 300,000 and 28,000 years before our era had already perceived the medicinal virtues of certain plants: they were treated in particular with aspirin and antibiotics. One of them suffered in particular from a dental abscess as well as an infection caused by the parasitic fungus Enterocytozoon. » He was clearly in poor health« , details Laura Weyrich, the main author of the study, who points out that » the genetic analysis of DNA ‘locked’ in dental plaque represents a unique window into the way of life of Neanderthal man, with tartar giving us information on the diet of these prehistoric men, their state of health and the impact of the environment on their behavior“.
But how were we treated 48,000 years ago? Not at the local pharmacy anyway. Our individual had enriched his diet with poplar extracts as well as a grassy mould. The poplar indeed contains salicylic acid, the active principle of aspirin, while this grassy mold contained penicillin, the first antibiotic ever synthesized. According to the researchers, these substances having been ingested only by the sick individual, their consumption was intentional.
This new evidence suggests that Neanderthal was not the primitive, gruff savage he has long been passed off as, quite the contrary. This Man was intelligent and presumably possessed marvelous knowledge of his surroundings. Moreover, we have to date no trace of such self-medication in our species at that time. Did Neanderthal invent medicine?