Neanderthals had feelings too, say researchers

Oct 05, 2010

Pioneering new research by archaeologists at the University of York suggests that Neanderthals belied their primitive reputation and had a deep seated sense of compassion.

A team from the University's Department of Archaeology took on the 'unique challenge' of charting the development of compassion in early humans.

The researchers examined for the way emotions began to emerge in our ancestors six million years ago and then developed from earliest times to more recent humans such as and modern people like ourselves. The research by Dr Penny Spikins, Andy Needham and Holly Rutherford is published in the journal Time and Mind.

The studied archaeological evidence and used this to propose a four stage model for the development of human compassion. It begins six million years ago when the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees experienced the first awakenings of an empathy for others and motivation to 'help' them, perhaps with a gesture of comfort or moving a branch to allow them to pass.

The second stage from 1.8 million years ago sees compassion in beginning to be regulated as an emotion integrated with rational thought. Care of sick individuals represented an extensive compassionate investment while the emergence of special treatment of the dead suggested grief at the loss of a loved one and a desire to soothe others feelings.

In Europe between around 500,000 and 40,000 years ago, early humans such as Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals developed deep-seated commitments to the welfare of others illustrated by a long adolescence and a dependence on hunting together. There is also archaeological evidence of the routine care of the injured or infirm over extended periods. These include the remains of a child with a congenital brain abnormality who was not abandoned but lived until five or six years old and those of a Neanderthal with a withered arm, deformed feet and blindness in one eye who must have been cared for, perhaps for as long as twenty years..

In modern humans starting 120,000 years ago, compassion was extended to strangers, animals, objects and abstract concepts.

Dr Penny Spikins, who led the research, said that new research developments, such as neuro-imaging, have enabled archaeologists to attempt a scientific explanation of what were once intangible feelings of ancient humans. She added that this research was only the first step in a much needed prehistoric archaeology of compassion.

"Compassion is perhaps the most fundamental human emotion. It binds us together and can inspire us but it is also fragile and elusive. This apparent fragility makes addressing the evidence for the development of compassion in our most ancient ancestors a unique challenge, yet the archaeological record has an important story to tell about the prehistory of compassion," she said.

"We have traditionally paid a lot of attention to how thought about each other, but it may well be time to pay rather more attention to whether or not they 'cared'."

Explore further: New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

More information: www.blurb.com/books/1628917

Provided by University of York

4.5 /5 (12 votes)

Related Stories

New ancestor? Scientists ponder DNA from Siberia

Mar 24, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- An international team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has sequenced ancient mitochondrial DNA from a finger bone found in southern Siberia. ...

Neanderthals more advanced than previously thought

Sep 21, 2010

For decades scientists believed Neanderthals developed `modern' tools and ornaments solely through contact with Homo sapiens, but new research from the University of Colorado Denver now shows these sturdy ...

The 'spread of our species'

Nov 08, 2005

Modern humans arrival in South Asia may have led to demise of indigenous populations. In a major new development in human evolutionary studies, researchers from the University of Cambridge argue that the dispersal of m ...

Recommended for you

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

Sep 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State Univer ...

Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

Sep 19, 2014

For more than 5,000 years, numerous civilizations have left their mark on upper Mesopotamia—from Assyrians and Akkadians to Babylonians and Romans. Their ancient, buried cities, palaces and temples packed ...

New branch added to European family tree

Sep 17, 2014

The setting: Europe, about 7,500 years ago. Agriculture was sweeping in from the Near East, bringing early farmers into contact with hunter-gatherers who had already been living in Europe for tens of thousands ...

User comments : 11

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bob_Kob
4 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2010
You can notice these traits in animals today...
getgoa
1 / 5 (7) Oct 05, 2010
The research remains are accurate but emotions are not Cain and Abel for the most part can be regarded as neanderthals and Cain did not follow at all.

The other side of thinking is that neanderthals kept the sick around to make themselves feel stronger through expressing simple emotions--meaning if the sick was around and they had a good hunting adventure the hunter would care for them since their reward was greater.

The same holds true for hunting in groups, to attain a greater reward and shows strategy more than emotions.
kevinrtrs
1.8 / 5 (10) Oct 05, 2010
Neanderthals are just another group of fully developed human beings.
It's just the search for evidence of molecules-to-man evolution that imposes the artificial classification on them. Clearly more and more evidence is coming to light that they had emotions, art, ingenious manufacturing capabilities etc. What on earth will it take for them to suddenly become homo-sapien? And when that line is drawn and exceeded, will the bar be raised again?

JRDarby
1.8 / 5 (4) Oct 05, 2010
Indeed, kevinrtrs. There is already much dispute within the academic/anthropological community whether Neanderthals are distinct from humans at all. In my personal experience, and so I speak for none but myself, I have found that those who want most to classify H. neanderthalsis as non-human do so for more religious reasons than scientific ones.
epsi00
5 / 5 (3) Oct 05, 2010
It's not so much the promotion of the Neanderthals to homo-sapien that bothers some, it's the implied demotion of us from the top of the pyramid where we never belonged anyway. I don't see myself ( just my opinion ) as any different from an elephant ( though in size we are ) or a gorilla. Tell them to explain why nature provided elephants with a big brain if there was no need for it and its complex functions.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.3 / 5 (7) Oct 05, 2010
What on earth will it take for them to suddenly become homo-sapien? And when that line is drawn and exceeded, will the bar be raised again?
We have full genome sequences for Neaderthals and for humans. The disparity is great enough to consider the two as seperate species.
http://www.promeg...dwin.pdf
Neanderthals vary from us as greatly as they vary from chimpanzees. http://www.jqjaco...hal.html
We're more closely related to Cro-magnon than neanderthal.
http://humanorigi...derthals

Sorry gents, the evidence is contrary to your hypotheses.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (7) Oct 06, 2010
Sorry gents, the evidence is contrary to your hypotheses

Do you really consider it a valid approach to compare the genome sequences in that way? Consider just how "close" [ in evolutionary terms] we are are to the monkeys/apes etc, and yet the actual living differences between us and those organisms are vast. So where and how does the genome sequence determine that we are derived from them?
You are of course aware that the evidence you provide has an a-priori bias towards evolutionary thinking?
Skeptic_Heretic
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 06, 2010
Do you really consider it a valid approach to compare the genome sequences in that way?
Yes.
Consider just how "close" [ in evolutionary terms] we are are to the monkeys/apes etc, and yet the actual living differences between us and those organisms are vast.
And? Minor changes in the building blocks of life have large implication within said life.
So where and how does the genome sequence determine that we are derived from them?
Well it doesn't determine that we're derived from neanderthals. It determines the exact opposite, as I told you. Think on it this way: human DNA has multiple ERVs attached to the genome in very particular spots. Chimpanzees have these exact same ERVs. We know that this can only happen if there is a common ancestor that had a viral infection of it's germ cells.
You are of course aware that the evidence you provide has an a-priori bias towards evolutionary thinking?
No, evidence doesn't have a bias, evidence simply exists.
croghan27
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
certainly they had feelings - and expressed them too:

[IMG]http://i163.photobucket.com/albums/t304/croghan27/cro-bloggers-1.jpg[/IMG]
Loodt
2.2 / 5 (5) Oct 06, 2010
The Neanderthal story keeps swinging backwards and forwards. Did early humans have sex with Neanderthals or not? Sorry Skeptic Heretic, but the science is not settled. Your reference is way out of date, even though I couldn't find a date of publication, the most recent reference indicated the paper was written round the turn of the century. Well, the world has moved on, gotten hotter, and new science conducted.

http://news.bbc.c...0940.stm

Seeing that they've uncovered statues of humans having sex with LLama's in Peru, I am inclined to belief that homo sapiens tried it on with anything it could, including camels and Neanderthals.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2010
That reference is working off of direct population samples of sites dated 250,000 years ago and doesn't speak to subsequent interbreeding after the ex-africanus migrations of modern humans. The date of publication is 9/12/2009.

As for whether the two populations interbred, I'm fairly sure they did, and I'm fairly sure we have dna evidence of hybridized "neadersapiens." in example, the FOXP gene responsible for speech found in modern humans and neanderthals.