Caring for people

It is possible to analyse the origin of some of the caring practices in the Neanderthal groups, such as sharing food, providing help in times of incapacity, transportation and protection of vulnerable group members, etc.

Caring practices among Neanderthal groups have been documented over more than sixty thousand years at archaeological sites such as La Chapelle-Aux-Saints (France) and Shanidar (Iraq). In the latter, the remains of an individual with severe birth defects were documented. His right arm was useless, bone scars indicate that he was blind in his left eye and it has recently been discovered that he was profoundly deaf! Despite all these disabilities he lived to the age of forty, a very advanced age for those groups. According to his researchers, this man was cared for by his relatives, who fed him, took care of his needs, carried him with them and looked after him until he died. All this shows that these hominids already practiced what in today’s societies we would call solidarity, cooperation or altruism.  

This evidence and even earlier examples show how social care evolved at the same time as the human species. Help in childbirth, the transportation and protection of infants, body hygiene and the treatment of wounds are some of the practices that, although they do not leave archaeological traces, are necessary for the survival of human groups.

According to the psychologist R. Figueroa, there is an interesting statistical link between social care and the relative volume of the neocortex, which in primates has a very high correlation with various behavioural indices connected with the social complexity of living in a group (Dunbar 1998). Close social relations are very demanding and this means the neocortex has to be well developed to be able to handle such social/cognitive relations. 

Picture: Views of the Shanidar 1 fossil ear canal showing deformities that would probably have caused profound deafness. © E. Trinkaus


Dumbar, RIM (1998): The social brain hypothesis. Evolutionary Anthropology, 6, 178-90.

Trinkaus, E.; Villotte, S. (2017): External auditory exostoses and hearing loss in the Shanidar 1 Neandertal. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0186684.

Paleolítico Medio. Cuidado de las personas. Imagen E. Trinkaus

Paleolítico Medio. Cuidado de las personas. Imagen E. Trinkaus


The Pastwomen Network co-organizes the International Seminar "Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender Archaeology" at the University of Tübingen.

July 4-10, 2022

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