Neanderthals Buried Their Dead in Ancient Ritual
In yet another revealing study showing that Neanderthals were not that different from modern humans, researchers have found proof that our ancient relatives buried their dead intentionally.
Evidence comes from the discovery of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal skeleton in a cave in La Chappele-aux-Saints, France. The individual had been carefully placed in a grave and great care had been taken to protect his body from scavengers.
Neanderthals were an ancient species of early humans who supposedly migrated to Europe about 300 thousand years ago from Eurasia. Not so long ago, scientists considered them to be very primitive compared to our own species, the Homo sapiens. However, gradually this theory is being revised.
Paul Pettitt, an archeologist at Durham University in the U.K., said the findings "not only demonstrates that Neanderthal burial was a reality at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, but in my opinion also raises the possibility that the evolution of human burial began with the simple modification of natural pits for funerary use."
Neanderthals were known to bury their dead in the Middle East. However, these burials dated to a time when contact with modern humans (Homo sapiens) might have occurred, suggesting that humans' Neanderthal relatives might not have come up with this idea on their own.
The idea that Neanderthals buried their dead fits with recent findings that they were capable of developing rich cultures. For example, findings have shown that they created art, used medicinal plants, organised their homes, wore jewellery made of feathers and coloured shells, and had a sophisticated form of language and speech.
Evidence from the La Chapelle site also suggests that Neanderthals were like us in that they cared for their sick and elderly. The skeleton that was discovered belonged to a Neanderthal who was missing most of his teeth and showed signs of hip and back problems that would have made movement difficult without assistance. The other members of his group would have had to have taken care of him before his death.