It was inevitable. No sooner did we hear that current humans and Neanderthals definitely interbred, we heard they were good parents too.
Dr Spikins, who has a new book on why altruism was central to human evolutionary origins, How Compassion Made Us Human, (Pen and Sword) published later this year, said: “The traditional view sees Neanderthal childhood as unusually harsh, difficult and dangerous. This accords with preconceptions about Neanderthal inferiority and an inability to protect children epitomising Neanderthal decline.
“Our research found that a close attachment and particular attention to children is a more plausible interpretation of the archaeological evidence, explaining an unusual focus on infants and children in burial, and setting Neanderthal symbolism within a context which is likely to have included children.
“Interpretations of high activity levels and frequent periods of scarcity form part of the basis for this perceived harsh upbringing. However, such challenges in childhood may not be distinctive from the normal experience of early Palaeolithic human children, or contemporary hunter-gatherers in particularly cold environments. There is a critical distinction to be made between a harsh childhood and a childhood lived in a harsh environment.”
The trouble is, the filmography of Neanderthal life has somehow got lost.
Here’s the Abstract:
Childhood is a core stage in development, essential in the acquisition of social, practical and cultural skills. However, this area receives limited attention in archaeological debate, especially in early prehistory. We here consider Neanderthal childhood, exploring the experience of Neanderthal children using biological, cultural and social evidence. We conclude that Neanderthal childhood experience was subtly different from that of their modern human counterparts, orientated around a greater focus on social relationships within their group. Neanderthal children, as reflected in the burial record, may have played a particularly significant role in their society, especially in the domain of symbolic expression. A consideration of childhood informs broader debates surrounding the subtle differences between Neanderthals and modern humans. – Penny Spikins, Gail Hitchens, Andy Needham and Holly Rutherford. The Cradle of Thought: growth, learning and play attachment in Neanderthal children. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 2014 DOI: 10.1111/ojoa.12030 (paywall)
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