Researchers say a tiny “time capsule” aka the teeth of Neanderthals, offers more than a few surprises. Bacterium trapped in their ancient plaque still dwells inside human mouths today, which suggests they shared microbes – and spit – with humans, according to a new study.
The Post’s Sarah Kaplan caught up with Keith Dobney, a professor of human paleoecology at the University of Liverpool and a co-author of a new study on the dental enamel of four Neanderthals “who lived between 42,000 and 50,000 years ago; two in what is now Belgium, the other two in modern-day Spain.”
Teeth, Dobney said, are “this fantastic time capsule of biological information that traps not only direct evidence of the food that goes in your mouth, but these amazingly well preserved ecosystems that have evolved with us.”
The new study, led by University of Adelaide paleomicrobiologist Laura Weyrich and published Wednesday in the journal Nature suggests Neanderthals may have been ingesting natural substances to treat their pain.
Dobney describes: “a Spanish individual who was suffering from both a tooth abscess and an intestinal parasite when he died. His dental plaque contained the DNA of a tree that produces the painkiller salicyclic acid (the active ingredient in aspirin) and bits of the fungus Penicillium (which produces the antibiotic penicillin).”
Find out a few more tales told by their dental calculus in the full story: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/03/08/neanderthal-microbes-reveal-surprises-about-what-they-ate-and-who-they-kissed/?utm_term=.19dd7f6d3fb5