Researchers from the University of York Archaeology Department have published a new book called The Prehistory of Compassion
that argues Neanderthal had feelings of empathy. (The findings have also been published in the journal, Time & Mind
.) Associated archaeological evidence indicates that Neanderthal cared for the injured or infirmed over extended periods:
These include the remains of a child with a congenital brain abnormality who was not abandoned, but lived until five or six years old. The researchers also note that there was 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.
A subsequent paper has come out (published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) presenting evidence of compassion even among Neanderthal's ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis, who lived 500,000 years ago.
Analysis of the fossils indicates the male Homo heidelbergensis was over age 45 and suffered from a spinal deformity that would have caused him a lot of pain and forced him to stoop over. It's not clear how much older than 45 he was. The researcher, however, are certain that he was elderly based on his remains."He possibly used a cane, just as a modern elderly person does," Bonmati said. "This individual may not have been an active hunter and was impaired to carry heavy loads, thus an important source of his food would depend on other members of the group, which would mean sharing."