Brain-damaged child 100,000 years old

New study shows brain-damaged child was well cared for 100,000 years ago

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A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE has revealed the discovery of a Paleolithic child who appears to have suffered extensive brain damage after an injury, but survived for years afterwards. The child, who lived 100,000 years ago, would have been unable to care for himself or herself, so people must have spent years looking after the child. The finding dispels beliefs that parenting in the Paleolithic was excessively harsh.

The child’s skeleton was first unearthed decades ago in the Qafzeh cave system in Galilee, Israel, along with 27 other partial skeletons, stone tools and hearths. However, only recently have technological advancements enabled scientists to perform detailed studies on the child’s skull through CT scanning and 3D reconstruction of the skull and the surface changes inside the skull.

The digital images revealed that the child had suffered a blunt-force trauma at the front of the skull that produced a compound fracture, with a piece of bone depressed in the skull. The trauma could have been caused by accidental injury e.g. a fall, or it may have been the result of violence.

By identifying the precise area in which the bone of the skull caved inwards, scientists were able to pinpoint the area of the brain that would have been affected by the injury. According to this research, the skull trauma would have led to difficulties in controlling movements and speaking, as well as caused personality changes and impaired the child's social functioning.  The child would have been rendered disabled and unable to care for himself or herself. 

The analysis further revealed that the child was around 6 to 7-years-old at the time of injury, and 12 to 13-years-old at the time of death.  This indicates that the child had been well cared for a number of years and was still a valued member of society despite being brain damaged. This is further supported by the discovery of funerary objects in the child’s burial pit, including a pair of deer antlers that had been placed across the child’s chest.

Hélène Coqueugniot, an anthropologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at the University of Bordeaux in France, and lead author of the study, said that the finding is significant because it provides “some of the most ancient evidence of compassion and altruism."

Featured image: A Paleolithic child that died 100,000 years ago may have suffered from brain damage after an injury. Researchers used a 3D reconstruction (shown here) to reveal the compound fracture and surface changes inside the skull. Credit: Coqueugniot H, Dutour O, Arensburg B, Duday H, Vandermeersch B, et al. (2014)

By April Holloway


I am sometimes amazed at how shocked people can get when presented the idea that high functioning human behavior is evident a hundred thousand years ago. It is obviously wrong to equate technological advancement with the overall human condition. There are indio tribes in the amazon who live no different yet clearly would also do all in their power to nurture and care for their own. The lack of one clearly does not rule out the other. In that respect it could be said that we have regressed.

angieblackmon's picture

i'm glad to hear the child wasn't just killed or abandoned or something horrible. i hope whatever caused the injury was a pure accident, but who knows. someone cared enough to make sure this child was taking care of for as long as possible and i think that says a lot considering that not even 100 years ago people with disablities and problems where sent away and locked up, never to be seen again.

love, light and blessings


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