TECH

Neanderthals Actually Used 'Aspirin' Just Like Us

Did they have hangovers at work too?

09/03/2017 11:47 GMT

Most people would agree that having a packet of tablets to hand that can magically make pain disappear is one of the marvels of modern medicine.

Especially when you’ve had a few too many to drink the night before.

But it seems modern humans aren’t the only beneficiaries of aspirin’s magical properties; in fact our ancestors took the drug too. And long before humans had developed penicillin. 

University of Adelaide

A study of neanderthals (our nearest extinct relatives) has found that they too used plant-based medicines to treat illness and pain.

A team from the University of Adelaide, put dental plaque under the microscope because it allows unparalleled insight into the lives of people who existed between 42,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Dr Laura Weyrich, author on the paper, said: “Genetic analysis of that DNA locked-up in plaque, represents a unique window into neanderthal lifestyle ― revealing new details of what they ate, what their health was like and how the environment impacted their behaviour.” 

DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI via Getty Images

For example, neanderthals who lived in Spy Cave ate wooly rhinoceros and wild sheep, while those from the El Sidron cave ate a largely vegetarian diet of pine nuts, moss, mushrooms and tree bark.

During these investigations it was found that one of these vegetarian subjects had a dental abscess on his jawbone, and a diarrhea-causing parasite, and was self medicating with poplar - a plant that contains salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.

Weyrich said: “Apparently, neanderthal possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and seem to be self-medicating.

“The use of antibiotics would be very surprising, as this is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin. Certainly our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination.”

Not as primitive as we thought.