Neanderthals buried their dead

A new study of neanderthal remains found in southwestern France has shown that they were most likely buried, and while researchers do not know if this was a ritual or just a pragmatic act, they said it narrows the behavioral differences between them and modern-day humans.

By Ananth Baliga

Neanderthals may have buried their dead, according to a study of neanderthal remains found in southwestern France.

Researchers have confirmed that neanderthals, who were predecessors to humans, conducted burials in western Europe.


This follows earlier research on the well-preserved remains of a neanderthal first discovered at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southwestern France in 1908, which suggested the site was a burial ground. But this was not widely accepted by the scientific community, with many saying that burial may not have been intentional.

“This discovery not only confirms the existence of Neanderthal burials in Western Europe, but also reveals a relatively sophisticated cognitive capacity to produce them,” said William Rendu, a researcher at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

During the 13-year study, which ended in 2012, researchers excavated other caves in the same area and found more neanderthal remains along with the bones of bison and reindeer.

While researchers did not find any tool marks to suggest that there were signs of digging at 1908 site, geological analysis of the 'grave' in which the remains were found suggest that it wasn't a natural feature of the cave.


The remains examined at the site were compared to the bison and reindeer remains and showed no signs of disturbance by animals, contained few cracks and no smoothing due to weathering.

“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,” said 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.”

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[New York University] [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]

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