Research continues to show that Neanderthals were much more advanced than previously thought.
A recent revelation is that man’s ancestor buried their dead much in the same way we do.
An international team of archeologists came to that conclusion after a 13-year study of remains discovered in southwestern France.
“This discovery not only confirms the existence of Neanderthal burials in Western Europe, but also reveals a relatively sophisticated cognitive capacity to produce them,” explains William Rendu, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences
(CIRHUS) in New York City.
The findings center on Neanderthal remains first discovered in 1908 at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southwestern France. The well-preserved bones led its early 20th-century excavators to posit that the site marked a burial ground created by a predecessor to early modern humans.
Some, however, disputed that notion, instead saying the burials were accidental.
Beginning in 1999, Rendu and his collaborators began excavating seven other caves in the area.
At the conclusion of the excavations in 2012, the scientists found more Neanderthal remains—two children and one adult—along with bones of bison and reindeer.
While they did not find tool marks or other evidence of digging where the initial skeleton was unearthed in 1908, geological analysis of the depression in which the remains were found suggests that it was not a natural feature of the cave floor.
Furthermore, the human remains found in 1908 differ from the bison remains because they contained few cracks, no weathering-related smoothing and no signs of disturbance by animals.
“The relatively pristine nature of these 50,000-year-old remains implies that they were covered soon after death, strongly supporting our conclusion that Neanderthals in this part of Europe took steps to bury their dead,” observes Rendu. “While we cannot know if this practice was part of a ritual or merely pragmatic, the discovery reduces the behavioral distance between them and us.”
Their findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.