Calculated or caring? Neanderthal healthcare in social context

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Explanations for patterns of healed trauma in Neanderthals have been a matter of debate for several decades. Despite widespread evidence for recovery from injuries or survival despite impairments, apparent evidence for healthcare is given limited attention. Moreover, interpretations of Neanderthal’s approach to injury and suffering sometimes assume a calculated or indifferent attitude to others. Here we review evidence for Neanderthal healthcare, drawing on a bioarchaeology of care approach and relating healthcare to other realms of Neanderthal social life. We argue that Neanderthal medical treatment and healthcare was widespread and part of a social context of strong pro-social bonds which was not distinctively different from healthcare seen in later contexts. We suggest that the time has come to accept Neanderthal healthcare as a compassionate and knowledgeable response to injury and illness, and to turn to other questions, such as cultural variation or the wider significance of healthcare in an evolutionary context.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalWorld Archaeology
Early online date22 Feb 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 The Author(s).


  • Archaic human
  • Healthcare

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