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Neanderthals were not cruel and selfish – they were actually quite compassionate when it came to ill and injured

Posted March 24, 2018

If someone does something stupid, we sometimes call him a Neanderthal. We see Neanderthals as primitive and brutal relatives, but they actually were quite smart. Furthermore, a new research from te University of York revealed that they were very good at dealing with illness and injuries – they had somewhat of a healthcare system. And it was knowledgeable and compassionate.

Neanderthals took care of their ill and injured regardless of the severity of their condition. Image credit: Tiia Monto via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Neanderthals cares for ill and injured – that has been known for quite some time already. However, what we didn’t know is that they were also very compassionate – individuals were caring for others without personal benefit. Neanderthals were trying to help in the case of injury or illness regardless of how difficult the condition was. It means that in some of these cases recovery period was very lengthy and they had to take care of these individuals for a fairly long time. Scientists say that it seems like Neanderthals were helping others without even thinking if they are going to be rewarded. It is also interesting that Neanderthals were capable of quite complex medical procedures.

Sure they didn’t have complex medicine, but they could treat pretty difficult conditions. Most the injured individuals discovered by archaeologists had survived severe traumas. And they didn’t die because of complications either – they managed to recover enough to continue living a normal Neanderthal life. This means that Neanderthals knew how to manage a fever, massage, maintain decent hygiene. If Neanderthals would have been cruel, self-centred individuals like we tend to consider them to be, they probably wouldn’t have taken care of severely injured counterparts.

Scientists were particularly interested in an individual, who died being somewhere between 25 and 40 years of age. His health was particularly poor as he had a degenerative disease of the spine and shoulders. Therefore, at the last 12 months of his life he could not contribute to the common good of the group. However, he did survive those 12 months and it couldn’t be possible without care of other group members. Dr Penny Spikins, lead author of the study, said: “The very 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 rather has a long evolutionary history”.

Our perspective on Neanderthals is slowly changing. They were not primitive and they were not cruel. That individual was even carefully buried, after a lengthy period during which his group had to take care of him.


Source: University of York

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