Skeleton and model Neanderthal
Neanderthal humans, the iconic cavemen of the last Ice Age, were a lot like us. Some early modern humans thought they were enough like us to mate with. You and I probably have a small amount of Neanderthal DNA in our bodies, which helps us make vitamin D and may raise our cholesterol levels (both adaptations to Europe in the Ice Age.) They contribute to the skin tone, hair color, and sleeping patterns inherited from our European ancestors. Neanderthal genes
Evidence from skulls and skeletons shows that Neanderthals cared for each other, just as we do today. Fossil discoveries in Northern Iraq included flower pollen.
Someone in the last Ice Age must have ranged the mountainside in the mournful task of collecting flowers for the dead… It seems logical to us today that pretty things like flowers should be placed with the cherished dead, but to find flowers in a Neanderthal burial that took place about 60,000 years ago is another matter. Neanderthal DNA
While not the only explanation possible for the flower pollen, it is haunting.
Neanderthals cared for injured or disabled individuals during their lives too.
At a young age, [the fossil designated] Shanidar 1 experienced a crushing blow to his head. The blow damaged the left eye (possibly blinding him) and the brain area controlling the right side of the body… All of Shanidar 1’s injuries show signs of healing, so none of them resulted in his death. In fact, scientists estimate he lived until 35–45 years of age. He would have been considered old. Shanidar-1
He also suffered from a withered right arm which had been fractured in several places and healed, but which caused the loss of his lower arm and hand. wikipedia
A new analysis of Shanidar 1 adds severe hearing loss to the man’s list of disabilities.
Of course, various animals care for offspring and share food. I still get teary-eyed remembering a momma dog I once knew. One of her pups died and we buried it, but in the morning found the little body, licked clean, at her side. But Neanderthals were humans, and more and more I can add: like us.
I’ve read that most of the fossils from the Shandiar cave have been lost in the current Middle East wars. “Shanidar 1 Neanderthal cranium was analyzed visually with low magnification assessment of the intact right and left external auditory meatus in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad in 1976–78. Cranial radiography was not available in the Iraq Museum, and reanalysis since then has not been feasible. Observations are therefore based on the externally visible configurations of the auditory pori and lateral meatus.” The research is published in the journal PLoS ONE.
The emphasis in this quotation is mine. A dry reference, I assume, to one more sad outcome of war. There have been stories of museum staff hiding, and thereby saving, some of Iraq’s treasures. I hope the Neanderthals will reappear someday.