From Colin Barras at New Scientist:
One of the two El Sidrón individuals – a teenage boy – is known to have had a large dental abscess. The new DNA analysis shows he had a diarrhoea-causing gut parasite in his system, too. “It’s likely he wasn’t a very happy individual,” says Weyrich.
Previous studies have suggested the teenager was eating plants with anti-inflammatory properties. The new study also finds DNA sequences of poplar plants, which are known to contain the natural pain killer salicylic acid (closely related to the active ingredient in aspirin).
That may not have been the only medication or self-medication he did: there was DNA from Penicillium fungus – the source of penicillin – in his dental calculus.
However, it is difficult to say for sure whether Neanderthals actively consumed the fungus for its medicinal properties. Penicillium grows naturally on plant material as it moulds, so they could have eaten it by coincidence. “It’s difficult to tell these specific moulds apart unless you have a hand lens,” says O’Regan.
But Weyrich points out that the Penicillium was only in the dental calculus of the sick teenager – none was found in the calculus of the second El Sidrón individual, who is thought to have led a healthy life. “They might have had some knowledge that mouldy grains could help them when they were sick – we just don’t really know,” she says. More.
But they’re still subhuman, see? We can think that for Darwin, can’t we?
See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
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