Neanderthals cared for elders, French burial site shows
By Kerry Sheridan, AFP
December 18, 2013, 12:08 am TWN
WASHINGTON--New findings at an old Neanderthal burial ground in France have bolstered the notion that cavemen cared for their elders, researchers said Monday.
The research is based on excavations around the skeleton of an elderly Neanderthal man who could barely walk and had lost his teeth, and who was painstakingly buried after he died.
The burial pit at La Chapelle-aux-Saints was first found in 1908, containing the remains of a man with spinal deformities. An initial misinterpretation of his bones gave rise to the popular legend of the dim-witted, hunched and shuffling Neanderthal.
But over the years, a more careful analysis of his burial site, and the discovery of apparently intentional grave sites elsewhere in Europe, suggested that Neanderthals had a greater capacity for reverence and caring than previously thought.
The report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is based on 13 years of research at an excavation site in southern France.
Researchers have now ruled out the possibility that the cave floor under the man — who was old by Neanderthal standards and may have been in his late 30s or early 40s — was a natural formation, indicating it must have been dug, said the report in PNAS.
The remains of three more individuals have also been found nearby, though it is unclear whether these two children and one adult were related to, or even the contemporaries of the 50,000-year-old buried elder, said lead researcher William Rendu of France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).
The pit in which his bones lay was made of soft limestone and clay. In nature these rock formations are found horizontally, though the section under his body was nearly vertical, he explained.
“The pit does not have any natural origins, it doesn't fit with any natural phenomenon. The only other explanation is a human origin,” said Rendu.