Why did Neanderthals bury their dead?


Did Neanderthals bury their dead? 



That's an interesting question that leads to other interesting questions. If they did, then why? If they didn't - then why not?

The following articles are about archaeologists finding Neanderthal remains underground that were very well preserved that would indicate that they were buried soon after death. You would assume that it was done intentionally since it's relatively difficult for a body to become buried after death by itself. How does a body get underground without getting eaten or rotting? Bacteria, Ants, Vultures, Flies - it doesn't take very long for a body to disappear.




 It does happen occasionally which is what creates fossils. That's usually because something fell in a bog, tar pit, in mud - something more natural like that. Other than those rare natural situations the other way things get buried is if they are purposely buried and this can also be found in the "natural kingdom" by quite a few different animals. Squirrels, foxes, and birds will hide their food and sometimes bury it. Cats will cover their excrement. So it wouldn't be difficult for a arguably more advanced species to do the same thing for the same reasons. The difference between a Neanderthal and modern humans is so negligible that it isn't not like discovering that dogs bury their dead. It's like discovering that humans bury their dead. Neanderthals weren't like inferior ape men but more like the difference between a dog and wolf - compared to humans. They weren't mentally inferior as much as they were wild and nomadic. They actually found their DNA is some human's dna, which meant that they bred with humans, which kinda blurs the line between "human" and "kinda human."



The real question isn't if they were able to mentally understand how, or that they actually buried themselves but why?

Well, why do we bury people?

It comes down to a problem of practicality. In the past there were problems with predators and scavengers. Burying the dead would avoid attracting carnivores but also save the body of your friends and family. You don't want them to die and if they do you don't want them to be eaten - so what is the alternative?


  • You either keep them with you. Not a good idea without refrigeration. 



  • You burn them - depends if you have fire but some would consider that to be on par with being eaten. (Destroying the body)



  • You eat them - which is naturally taboo and only happens as a last resort or with some cultures as a way to 'honor and keep them with them'  - but this leads to strange brain diseases. (Kuru) It would also depend on where they are on the spectrum between herbivore and carnivore. Herbivores obviously don't eat each other if they die. Carnivores potentially would eat anything if they were hungry enough and could. Sharks and Crocodiles eat smaller sharks and crocodiles and the only thing that keeps them from eating each other when they are the same size is that it's dangerous. If two animals that are about the same size try to eat each other they could both die. I don't think animals like Lions and Tigers eat each other - they may kill each other but wouldn't eat each other if they did. Polar bears do. hmm Sometimes chimpanzees will purposely attack and kill and eat other chimpanzees from another tribe/ group. I'm not sure what they do with their dead but I wouldn't be surprised if they ate each other. 


Another variable would be if they were nomadic or place (city/location) based. If someone dies when you are always traveling and never in the same place it changes what you would do with your dead. Also what your population is and how many people are dying. If you're nomadic you would either leave the body behind or bury it wherever you could. If you're always in the same place you would eventually realize it's best to keep the bodies buried in the same place - which would evolve into a graveyard. Which would probably then evolve into a place of 'worship' (memorial) and I would imagine spawned the first religious themes. Considering the actual place where people go after they die would make them question where they would go if they died - which would be compounded by their bodies still being there and lead to questions about the 'soul' and such. It would probably be a very different thing to see someone die and be eaten or lost and forgotten vs having them buried in a specific spot with other dead people. Death would take on a different perception and eventually a culture all it's own as it did with the Egyptians and other (all) cultures. It could have also been, coincidentally, the birthplace of abstract and symbolic thought.

I bet the confusion between spirit and souls being taken literally or metaphorically would have spawned theology. When we consider the "soul of sport" or the "Spirit of the hunt" or  "spirit of goodwill" we don't mean it literally - that there is an actual ghost of sportsmanship watching over us. This is the same confusion with the Greek and Roman gods. They had different personifications for various concepts like "the god of wine" or "the goddess of love" and some believed they were actual beings (gods) and others did not.




When people who are still alive are unable to attend something we say "They are there in spirit" - we don't mean that their actual soul is present but that they are being thought of. This concept becomes different if the other person is dead and we say "They are there in spirit" or that "Their soul lives on" or "They are watching down" (or up) at that point some people start to take these intangible souls and spirits literally. Some people believe that a persons' soul is an actual thing that exists in reality and is not tangible but is real and alive. Like a ghost. Other people think that a person and their consciousness is directly linked to their bodies and when they die they cease to exist and their 'soul' that lives on is a memory, or an image *imagination* of them.

Leonardo is a great example of this. In one context some believe his ghost is still alive in the universe somewhere, that is either still capable of conscious thought and communication or at least observation. In the other context when we consider his spirit or soul to exist we mean that he is still alive in, and through his works. In the same way that when people have children - their lineage is still alive an artist stays alive when their works are still 'alive' and known. This is what da Vinci meant in his quote:

"While I thought I was learning how to live I have been learning how to die." 

In Leonardo's case you could consider him to be more alive, prosperous, and influential today then he has ever been - even during his own life time. His 'songs' have stayed at the top of the charts for hundreds of years and remain unchallenged. Some people say that after Jesus he is the most influential person in all human history. The difference being that Leonardo actually left physical, tangible things that we can see, read, and touch. To truly value da Vinci requires his work to also be alive. If the Mona Lisa were to have been lost or destroyed before HD photographs were taken of it it could not be considered "the best, the most recognized, or the #1 image in the world" - because no one would be able to see it. Leonardo's claim to fame is not through word of mouth or what he looked like or that he was nice to people or was a good person - his status comes down to raw, literal, hard, work. It's like the difference between hearing that someone is the best architect and going and standing in a building they designed. As they say "The proof is in the pudding" and you need the pudding to actually be there. It reminds me of watching those cooking competition shows on tv. You can't REALLY know unless you taste it yourself. Thankfully with Leonardo we don't need to go by his reputation or judge him only by what other people say about him. If you want to know why he is considered the smartest and most creative person in history all the evidence is there for you to read in complete detail. If he was learning how to stay alive after he died - he succeeded admirably.

For those who think that once they are dead and done - you are really done and gone - they live their lives differently in that they try to leave your presence behind. If you don't think you get to come back for a 'do-over' or have another chance, you'll want to do as much as you can with the time you have. You could also think of life not as a test to how good of a person you are or how well you followed some kind of rules or morality but what you actually DO and leave behind physically.

There could be a person who lives a perfectly moral life that doesn't hurt anyone, raises a family and does everything by the rule book - and they do this so they will be rewarded in heaven, or at least avoid being punished. They might not think that what they do while they are alive really matters because the point of life is inconsequential to what happens TO YOU after you die.

Then there may be another person who thinks that life is more about what you do while you are alive because after you die you no longer exist. In that case then you would want to leave behind a legacy in the real, tangible world, a lasting effect, rather than saving up your karma points and good behavior for something that may or may not happen personally to your ghost/ soul.

 In this case your "soul" becomes like the soul of sport. Your immortality isn't gained through yourself but by what you have done in this world that stays alive after you are gone. Is your legacy and point of existence to get through life to get to somewhere intact (your spirit cannot be created or destroyed) or is it to live while you are alive? Is it better to have a gravestone that say "Made it to heaven" or "Cured a disease and saved millions of people's lives" ? He was a good friend and father vs He's considered to be the greatest genius who has ever lived and changed the world?

That brings up another point that is ultimately why we bury our dead. We bury them to be remembered. There are billions of husbands, wives, friends, sons, daughters that have been buried throughout history. Out of everyone there are a select few who 'we' remember by name. That become individuals and immortalized. That get monuments built in their honor vs left nameless in an unmarked grave. These people don't obtain that status because of who they were but by what they actually accomplished and added to the world. People that it doesn't matter if they have an actual spirit or soul that is still alive somewhere - but that tangibly have their presence alive in reality. That live on after they have died whether or not they know it or not.

So when you think about why we bury our dead we can think of it in those two ways. We can take it personally and worry about what happens to our conscience. Or we can realize that regardless of what happens to us after we are buried, we are not dead yet, and we still have time to add to our epitaphs.






Neanderthals buried their dead like modern humans

Read more:
“The relatively pristine nature of these 50,000-year-old remains implies that they were covered soon after death, strongly supporting our conclusion that Neanderthals in this part of Europe took steps to bury their dead,” said Rendu. ”While we cannot know if this practice was part of a ritual or merely pragmatic, the discovery reduces the behavioral distance between them and us.”


Evidence supporting an intentional Neandertal burial at La Chapelle-aux-Saints

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