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Were Neanderthals emotional beings, not brutes?

6th October 2010

Neanderthals may have held a 'deep-seated sense of compassion', according to new research from the University of York.

Together with her team, Dr Penny Spikins of the university's department of archaeology attempted to chart how emotions emerged in early humans and created a four-stage model of the development of compassion.

The research, which is published in the Time and Mind journal, points to milestones such as the emergence of special treatment for the dead around 1.8 million years ago as indications that early humanoids had a strong emotional capacity.

In addition, the study argues that between around 500,000 and 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals and early humans such as homo heidelbergensis had a keen sense of compassion. Evidence suggesting this includes a reliance on hunting together, a long adolescence and behaviour such as caring for the ill and infirm.

Dr Spikins, editor of science textbooks such as Mesolithic Europe, commented: 'We have traditionally paid a lot of attention to how early humans thought about each other, but it may well be time to pay rather more attention to whether or not they "cared".'

In May, research from the MaxPlanck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, published in Science, claimed that Neanderthal genes can be found in modern man, due to their interbreeding with early humans.
 

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