Is burying the deceased a practice unique to Homo sapiens? Or did other early humans lay their loved ones to rest under the earth?
It’s a topic of long-established debate among archaeologists. Now, the proof of funerary behaviour explains the social customs and cognitive abilities of Neanderthals. And whether or not they were capable of symbolic thought.
Several buried Neanderthal skeletons have been discovered in parts of Asia and Europe over 120 years. The most well-preserved ones, however, were found at the beginning of the 20th century. This has led to disbelief about whether Neanderthal burial practice was intentional.
New research of a 41,000-year-old skeleton of a Neanderthal child, found in a French cave in the 1980s, shows fresh evidence that the Stone Age hominins deliberately buried their dead.
Spanish and French researchers re-examined the remains using modern high-tech technology. Re-excavated the original site where the bones were found in southwestern France, and reviewed the field diaries and notebooks from the initial dig.
Their conclusion? The remains of a 2-year-old Neanderthal was intentionally laid in a pit dug in the sediment.
The research shows the absence of marks from an animal who may have tried to scavenge a naked body and that the skeleton was relatively unscattered with minimal weathering. This indicates that the body was rapidly covered, the scientist said.
The position of the skeleton also shows that the child was placed there deliberately.
The scientists from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the University of the Basque Country in Spain, and the Museum national d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris identified 47 bones belonging to the infants’ skeleton that were not previously seen.