Dental Plaque Reveals Some Neanderthals Devoured Rhinos, Others Nibbled on Moss

The Neanderthal medicine cabinet was stocked with pain-killers and antibiotics.

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

Dental plaque, the bacteria-rich tooth film your dentist nags you about, is not usually seen in a positive light. But for scientists studying Neanderthals, humanity’s closest extinct relatives, prehistoric plaque can be a godsend.

Much like the tree resin that traps ancient ecosystems in amber, plaque can preserve microbial lifeforms that proliferated in the mouths of our Neanderthal cousins, with whom early humans occasionally interbred before the mysterious species died out roughly 40,000 years ago. Hardened tartar and plaque, which is called „dental calculus,“ can yield a huge range of useful insights about the diet, lifestyle, and environment of Neanderthal communities, according to new research published Wednesday in Nature.

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