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Some Neanderthals Were Vegetarian: Ancient Dental Plaque Reveals Details On Neanderthal Diet

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Scientific treasure has been found in fossilized remains that were usually just thrown away by scientists. A recent study of fossilized dental plaque reveals a significant amount of detail about how Neanderthals may have lived their lives that could be contrary to what was previously thought. Is it possible that some Neanderthals lived on a vegetarian diet?

Vegetarian Neanderthals?

Studying fossilized plaque is a fairly new research field as scientists usually just dispose the specimen when studying ancient skulls and teeth. With this new research method in hand, scientists studied the remains of two Neanderthals from Belgium and Spain and found a striking difference in their eating habits and shed some light into some of their habits.

While the plaque of the remains from Belgium revealed a diet that was more classically meat-heavy, the remains from northern Spain seems to show a more vegetarian diet that consists mostly of pine nuts and mushrooms.

"It really contradicts the classical view of the club-toting, meat-eating caveman. It suggests that Neanderthals were much more tuned into the environment and their ecology — that is, that they were able to adapt to a variety of different surroundings and available foodstuffs, much like modern humans," said Laura Weyrich, paleomicrobiologist and co-author of the study published in the journal Nature.

This new discovery comes as an interesting new addition to the bank of information on some of our closest ancient relatives. Earlier this year, scientists found evidences of cannibalism from a set of 40,00- year-old remains from Belgium. The remains with cutting and fractures are said to come from the period when Neanderthals were nearing their end.

Did Neanderthals Know How To Self-Medicate?

In addition to the discovery of the Neanderthals' vegetarian diet, scientists also found evidences that point to a behavior that they found to be quite sophisticated. The idea of Neanderthals ingesting medicinal plants to self-medicate comes from one of the remains which had a tooth abscess and intestinal parasite at the time of his death.

On his teeth were found traces of the DNA of a plant which produces salicylic acid, an active ingredient of aspirin, as well as traces of Penicillium, the fungus that that produces the strong antibiotic penicillin. Interesting as the find was, authors of the study still believe that the idea of self-medicating Neanderthals is still inconclusive and can only be proven if they find traces of the same plants in the remains of other Neanderthals with the same illnesses.

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