Healthcare provisioning in evolutionary context

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


This research provides a large scale analysis of evidence previously only available as individual reports which is of significance to an understanding of social changes in the Palaeolithic. It also highlights why healthcare provisioning should be considered as a key evolutionary adaptation and so is of interest and importance to those studying cognitive, biological and anatomical changes. We are increasingly recognising many complex ways in which the ecological, social, cognitive and anatomical elements of our human evolutionary past interact and influence each other. One relatively new area of this type of interaction is the potential significance of healthcare provisioning on other realms of human evolution and behaviour. Evidence from skeletal remains for care has traditionally been considered to be subject to some debate. However, whilst precise interpretations remain open to discussion, widespread evidence for healthcare in Palaeolithic contexts is now widely accepted [1] [2] [3]. Healthcare practices are significant in several ways, such as by changing the profile of how injuries impact both group subsistence and individual survival, as well as having a profound impact of social relationships. Here we explore this issue through the interpretation of a large scale survey of evidence for care practices in early, archaic and modern humans. We consider the ecologica l basis for care for the ill and injured, how such care changes through time and in different contexts, the role of care practices in group survival, and the potential influence of increasingly sophisticated medical knowledge on care. Although healthcare provisioning has typically been seen in purely cultural terms, we argue that it is not only a significant and often overlooked element of social relationships throughout the Palaeolithic but is also of evolutionary significance. While other animals provision the ill and injured, none go to such lengths or with such competency as seen in archaic humans, as recent research has started to highlight [4] [5]. Healthcare practices in such groups are likely to have included not only provision of food and water and protection from predators, but also a knowledgeable approach to promoting wound healing and recovery from severe injury. We argue this adaptation was an important part of hominin sociality and may have become especially importan t to humans that were trying to survive in hostile environments. Bastir, M. Pulling faces. Nat Ecol Evol (2018). Comment on Godinho, R. M., Spikins, P., & O’Higgins, P. (2018). Supraorbital morphology and social dynamics in human evolution. Nature ecology & evolution, doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0528-0 Trinkaus, E. & Villotte, S. External auditory exostoses and hearing loss in the Shanidar 1 Neandertal. (2017) PLoS One 12, e0186684. Thorpe, N. 2016. The Palaeolithic Compassion Debate--Alternative Projections of Modern-Day Disability into the Distant Past. In Care in the Past: Archaeological and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by L. Powell, W. Southwell-Wright, and R. Gowland, 93–109. Oxford: Oxbow Books. Spikins, P., Needham, A., Tilley, L. & Hitchens, G. Calculated or caring? Neanderthal healthcare in social context. (2018).World Archaeology. DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2018.1433060 Tilley, L. (2015) Care Among the Neandertals: La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 and La Ferrassie 1 (Case Study 2). in Theory and Practice in the Bioarchaeology of Care 219–257 (Springer International Publishing, 2015).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2018
Event8th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Human Evolution -
Duration: 13 Sept 201815 Sept 2018


Conference8th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Human Evolution
Internet address

Cite this