Neanderthals were more caring than first thought

Vicky Thompson

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Imgid112803663 jpg galleryCompassion helped Neanderthals to survive, a new study by the University of York has revealed.

Neanderthals, a species of human that became extinct 40,000 years ago, has acquired an unwarranted image as brutish and uncaring.

However, the new research has revealed just how knowledgeable and effective their healthcare was.

The university’s studies have shown that healthcare was uncalculated and highly effective, challenging widely held notions.

The researchers argue that the care provided was widespread, compassionate and knowledgeable.

It is well-known that Neanderthals sometimes provided care for the injured, but new analysis by the team at York suggests that they were genuinely caring of their peers - regardless of the level of illness or injury - rather than helping others out of self-interest.

Dr Penny Spikins, senior lecturer in the archaeology of human origin, said: “Our findings suggest Neanderthals didn’t think in terms of whether others might repay their efforts, they just responded to their feelings about seeing loved ones suffering.”

Most of the individuals studied had a severe injury of some kind, with detailed pathologies highlighting a range of debilitating conditions and injuries.

In some cases these injuries occurred long before death and would have required monitoring and various forms of treatment.

Analysis of one male revealed a catalogue of poor health, which would have sapped his strength in the last year of his life and severely restricted his ability to contribute to the group.

Yet the study shows that he remained part of the group and his remains were carefully buried.

Dr Spikins said: “The similarity of Neanderthal healthcare to that of later periods has important implications.

We argue that organised, knowledgeable and caring healthcare is not unique to our species, but has a long evolutionary history.”

The study was partially supported by funding body, the John Templeton Foundation, and has been published in World Archaeology.