Smart Neanderthals had feelings, according to articles in ScienceDaily21 September 2010 and Fossil Science 23 September 2010 and 6 October 2010.

Anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore of UC Denver has challenged the idea that Neanderthals were “thick-skulled, primitive ‘cavemen’ overrun and out-competed by more advanced modern humans arriving in Europe from Africa”.

Riel-Salvatore has spent seven years studying Neanderthal sites in southern Italy. He found projectile points, ochre, bone tools, ornaments and possible evidence of fishing and small game hunting. These are not traditionally associated with Neanderthals and seem to have emerged in areas separate from “modern humans”. He concluded that Neanderthals have invented this technology when the climate changed in Italy and Neanderthals had to adapt to new sources of food. Riel-Salvatore rejects the idea that Neanderthals are a separate species. He commented: “Basically, I am rehabilitating Neanderthals. They were far more resourceful than we have given them credit for.” He went on to say: “It is likely that Neanderthals were absorbed by modern humans. My research suggests that they were a different kind of human, but humans nonetheless. We are more brothers than distant cousins.”

Meanwhile a team of archaeologists at the University of York are attempting to chart the history of compassion in humans and have found evidence of regular long term care of the ill and infirm in ancient human sites, including “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.”

Penny Spikins, who led the research, commented: “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.”

Fossil Science, ScienceDaily

Editorial Comment: Riel-Salvatore and Spikins are correct. The archaeological evidence fits with the physical evidence that Neanderthals were fully human. They had bigger brains on average than the modern man (that includes you and I), so it is no surprise they showed signs of being resourceful and innovative.

Showing compassion and caring for the weak and infirm also fits with them being fully human. Human beings do this because they were specially created in the image of a caring God, and are not the end result of a ruthless struggle for life where only the strong survive.

Evidence News 27 October 2010

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