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."

Tags: Compassion, Humans, Jubinsky, Neandertal, Neanderthal

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Replies to This Discussion

This isn't a big surprise, to be certain. However this does bring about two arguments: 1) as stated earlier-should we encourage the breeding of genotypic and phenotypic disabled and 2) does this present a contrary argument that mammals are genetically predisposed to abandon the unfit and focus on self-preservation? That is to say, do the more genetically complex mammals actually have a genetic predisposition towards helping the genetically feeble? I hesitate to use the term compassion, in the attempt to focus more on behaviours, genetics and cognitions, as opposed to affect.

If evidence does not support such genetic and behavioural factors, does this mean that affect (both satient and nonsatient) supercedes genetic predisposition? What are the possible implications? What are the benefits of helping another of the same species survive? Humans and related extinct species had and have social and anthropological motivations. If those were removed, would the behaviour still be exhibited? And what of those non-anthropoidal mammals? What could possibly be their motivation?

Very curious indeed.
What are the benefits of helping another of the same species survive?

Those of the species that randomly acquired altruistic traits would have taken better care of their young. Because of this their young would have had a better chance to survive. This would have provided a natural advantage for altruistic traits over non-altruistic traits to become endowed into the species. Moreover, those of the species having altruistic traits would have more readily cooperated with each other enabling them to better survive through teamwork in hunting, building and defending themselves. Eventually, they would have outnumbered the tyrantically oriented and killed them in self-defense. Therefore, altruism (compassion) would have become a feature of the species through the process of natural selection driven completely by survival.
True enough.
The research behind this theory is vital to establishing the evolutionary nature of human morality. It may seem obvious to us, but to the religious - who believe that all morals are absolute and come from a supernatural deity - our prehistoric behavioural traits aren't obvious at all. Facts add to the rational argument against creationism.
Do you honestly think that this would help against creationist that thinks the universe was created 6 to 12 thousand years ago and that everything that exist has always exited in its current form?
"Rational arguments don't work with religious people - otherwise there would be no religious people."

No amount of evidence to the contrary of their beliefs will change their minds, otherwise they would have changed their minds a long time ago.
Tell me about it, my entire family father, mother and both sisters were, and those left, still are fundie Southern Baptist and they are rabid in the fact. This is with the exception of my mother who is just a few shades more to the center of the conservative way than my sister and her brood... They have a total hatred for me and have told me to my face that I am a member of the army of the antichrist.... I live 5000 miles from them and really feel fortunate that I live in a country that actually separates church and state for the most part. But then again, I could never run for office or be elected being an atheist. Not a problem with the government just the fact that the people are still strongly authoritarian, and using religion was the way the English and French and Spanish took the South Pacific. I tell you, if you want to read some treachery and out and out viciousness read stories about the Europeans in the areas of Fiji, Indonesia, all the islands.
Religion as tyranny clings to your democracy more than anyone cares to notice. I'm not from the United States, but I do border is closely. Through your media and personal accounts I came to an appauling realisation that none of your citizens are truly free. It bears no resemblance to a true democracy, and for that I feel badly for the free-thinkers among you. I'm glad you were able to break free as much as you could.

Perhaps I digress........ Even though evidence such as this will never change the minds of those frozen in time, we can continue to build it in hopes that the hidden free-thinkers and undecided will feel supported enough to follow. This is not impossible.
For the average creationist, no. Yes, however, it will help in that all evidence that supports an evolutionary origin of species helps where facts count -- in the courts. Surely, not all courts that have ruled in favor of science over religious dogma have had non-xtians as presiding jurists.
My response was at the 'not newsworthy' and 'not surprising' comments. Sure, not to us, but there are ppl in the community that are xtian, who believe that human beings derive their morals and altruism from an absolute morality that comes from a deity, and who make decisions that effect society, such as judges. These ppl may not be acquainted with the idea of or the possible evidence to support a theory of human morality as the product of natural selection.
Sure, they may not believe it, but judges, xtian or not, are supposed to adjudicate bearing in mind facts, not their personal beliefs.
I couldn't agree more. Do any of you remember Koko and her kitten All Ball. Do any of you remember the grief that Koko went through when All Ball was killed? That was my true epiphany. I realized before that we were apes, and that we had to be related as they could comprehend and speak and now were learning sign language to be able to talk to us, but when All Ball was killed it showed me that emotions and altruism were not limited to those of us in the 5th branch of our family/genus. No the other apes are evolving just as we did and have.. We need to remember that we are from where we have come, and going where ever the evolutionary path takes us. Now if we could get more of us with common sense and less superstitions and other craziness....
Those who are stricken with the religious virus use this very thing as much of their leverage; the variable which separates humans from animals is our morality and compassion. I very much agree that this blows a hole straight through one of their strongest arguments.
...should not modern atheist have compassion with the believers for being very human in that they are vulnerable to how evolution built us.

I don't think the case can credibly be made that people are theists as the result of natural selection.

Under any circumstances theists are unreasonable in their desires to impose their beliefs on non-theists many of whom are children. Therefore, generally speaking, tough love is in order for them instead of a passive response that would do nothing to raise their awarenesses regarding the psychological damage they are doing to those who would otherwise hold dignity rather than blind faith as their greatest value. Their is nothing wrong with tough love when appropriately exercised.

Tough love does not involve unharnessed anger. It involves holding others responsible for their decisions when necessary. It is why some criminals have to go to prison. There are other cases in which tough love is appropriate. In general, one such case is in the way non-theists should deal with theists.

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