Living to fight another day: The ecological and evolutionary significance of Neanderthal healthcare

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Evidence of care for the ill and injured amongst Neanderthals, inferred through skeletal evidence for survival from severe illness and injury, is widely accepted. However, healthcare practices have been viewed primarily as an example of complex cultural behaviour, often discussed alongside symbolism or mortuary practices. Here we argue that care for the ill and injured is likely to have a long evolutionary history and to have been highly effective in improving health and reducing mortality risks. Healthcare provisioning can thus be understood alongside other collaborative ‘risk pooling’ strategies such as collaborative hunting, food sharing and collaborative parenting. For Neanderthals in particular the selective advantages of healthcare provisioning would have been elevated by a variety of ecological conditions which increased the risk of injury as well their particular behavioural adaptations which affected the benefits of promoting survival from injury and illness. We argue that healthcare provisioning was not only a more significant evolutionary adaptation than has previously been acknowledged, but moreover may also have been essential to Neanderthal occupation at the limits of the North Temperate Zone.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-118
Number of pages21
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date19 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Crown Copyright © 2018 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Neanderthal
  • mortality risk
  • Healthcare
  • palaeopathology
  • Medicine
  • Palaeopathology
  • Hunting practices
  • Mortality risk
  • Injury

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