New research from the University of Adelaide research has found Neanderthals cleverly concocted plant-based painkillers and antibiotics.
Our ancient ancestors, the Neanderthals, cleverly made plant-based painkillers and antibiotics to treat aches and illnesses, new University of Adelaide research has found.
A new study published in Nature journal analysed ancient DNA found in dental plaque of Neanderthals to learn more about their lifestyle, behaviour and diet.
The researchers compared samples from four Neanderthals found at the cave sites of Spy Cave in Belgium and El Sidron in Spain.
University of Adelaide's lead researcher Professor Alan Cooper says one of the most surprising finds was that our extinct ancestors could make natural medicines.
The jawbone from one Neanderthal in Spain had a painful dental abscess, while plaque showed he had an intestinal parasite that caused diarrhoea.
The ancient man was clearly sick, Prof Cooper said, but he was receiving treatment.
"He was eating poplar, which contains the painkiller salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin," he said.
"We could also detect a natural antibiotic mould."
Prof Cooper said it showed Neanderthals possessed a good knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants and seemed to be self-medicating.
He said the findings contrast with the views many people hold that of our ancient relatives were simplistic and unintelligent.
"This is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin," he said.
Researchers also found the Neanderthals in Belgium ate a meaty diet that included woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep, while those in Spain appeared to have a largely vegetarian diet.
The study was a collaboration between University of Adelaide's Centre for Ancient DNA, the university's dental school, and the University of Liverpool in the UK.