IBE (CSIC-UPF): Neanderthal tooth plaque hints at meals — and kisses

IBE (CSIC-UPF): Neanderthal tooth plaque hints at meals — and kisses

News from IBE (CSIC-UPF)

The analysis of DNA from the hardened tooth plaque of five Neanderthals has been published today in Nature and is the result of the collaboration of the University of Adelaide with the Institute of Evolutionary Biology of Barcelona (CSIC-UPF), among others. The study also reconstructs the first microbiomes from an extinct hominin species, and hints at intimacy — perhaps kisses — between humans and Neanderthals. 

The team compared plaque DNA from Neanderthals from El Sidrón and from the Spy cave in Belgium. The analysis revealed that whereas Spy denizens seemed to consume woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep, El Sidrón’s foraged for plants. Both ate mushrooms. The El Sidrón Neanderthals probably also used plants to self-medicate. DNA from poplar trees (parts of which contain salicyclic acid, historically used in aspirin), and Penicillium mould (the source of penicillin) turned up on one individual’s teeth. Weyrich suspects that they were trying to treat a visible tooth abscess and a stomach infection caused by the bacterium Enterocytozoon bieneusi.

Genetic evidence of a microbe called Methanobrevibacter oralis offers another insight, because it is also found in the mouths of modern humans. Genome comparisons suggest that the microbe’s modern lineage split from the Neanderthal one hundreds of thousands of years after the hominins’ last common ancestor lived. This suggests the archaebacterium was transmitted between them. 

More information:
IBE website

Reference Article:
Weyrich, L.S.; Duchene, S.; Soubrier, J.; Arriola, L.; Llamas, B.; Breen, J.; Morris, A.G.; Alt, K.W.; Caramelli, D.; Dresely, V.; Farrell, M.; Farrer, A.G.; Francken, M.; Gully, N.; Haak, S.; Hardy, K.; Harvati, K.; Held, P.; Holmes, E.; Kaidonis, J.; Lalueza-Fox, C.; de la Rasilla, M.; Rosas, A.; Semal, P.; Soltysiak, A.; Townsend, G.; Usai, D.; Wahl, J.; Huson, D.; Dobney, K.; and Cooper, A. 2017. Reconstructing Neandertal behavior, diet, and disease using ancient DNA from dental calculus. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature21674