While Neanderthals are a unique form of ancient hominins, the term ‘neanderthal’ is also used to describe people who are brutish and who are perceived as not very smart. This generalization was the mainstay among scientists for decades. Many researchers have contested the claim that Neanderthals were able to care for each other’s well-being pointing to the number of fossils with apparent injuries. Yet, a new study found that these archaic humans were compassionate beings who could provide a “compassionate and knowledgeable response to injury and illness”.
Previous studies have established that Neanderthals sometimes provided care for the injured, however, researchers at the University of York in the UK suggest that these proto-humans were generally compassionate to their peers.
“Our findings suggest Neanderthals didn’t think in terms of whether others might repay their effort, they just responded to their feelings about seeing their loved ones suffering,” said Dr. Penny Spiking, lead author of the study and a senior lecturer in the Archaeology of Human Origin at the University of York.
Most of the Neanderthal fossils had a severe injury of some kind and detailed pathologies revealed a range of debilitating conditions and injuries. Some of these injuries appeared long before death, and would have required monitoring, fever management, hygiene care, and massage, the researchers said.
For example, analysis of a male aged around 25-40 at time of death highlighted a list of illnesses, including a degenerative disease of the spine and shoulders. Judging by the state of his condition, researchers believe that he would have been drained of all remaining strength in the final 12 months of his life. However, researchers argued that the archaic human remained part of the group as his remains were subsequently carefully buried.
According to Dr. Spikins, healthcare among the Neanderthal people has been overlooked and all interpretations that would point to a knowledgeable response to injury were overshadowed by their “different” and brutish appearance. More so, researchers argue that organized and caring healthcare is not unique to homo sapiens but rather has a “long evolutionary history”.
The study was published in the journal, World Archaeology.
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