Neanderthals Had a Sense of Compassion

Recent findings suggest that Neanderthals looked after their elderly and wounded. They also made toys for their children. This suggests that they possessed both emotions and a sense of compassion.
Neanderthals Had a Sense of Compassion
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Neanderthals had a sense of compassion. The perception that they were irrational and unintelligent creatures, popularized throughout the 19th and 2oth centuries, is now being demolished. As a matter of fact, their artistic and cognitive skills, as well as their concern for overall well-being, have revealed interesting data in recent years.

We know that, about 370,000 years ago, modern humans and Homo neanderthalensis split from a common lineage. The latter gradually became extinct. However, the Homo sapiens continued to evolve and conquer new territories. Without a doubt, humans today are the result of that genetic and evolutionary success. 2.6 percent of our DNA comes from our Neanderthal cousins.

The Neanderthals skillfully dominated Ice Age Europe until weather conditions prevented it.

Science plans to erase the idea that Neanderthals were our “dumb’ cousins. Current investigations are certainly proving they were anything but. To this end, studies conducted by the University of Southampton, the University of Barcelona, and the University of Alcalá de Henares (Spain) revealed interesting information.

They found that paintings discovered in caves in Cantabria, Extremadura, and Andalusia were actually painted by the Neanderthals, and not the Homo sapiens. This means the Neanderthals were, in fact, the first-ever artists. For this reason, it’s time to rewrite history.

“Our findings suggest Neanderthals didn’t think in terms of whether others might repay their efforts, they just responded to their feelings about seeing their loved ones suffering.”

-Dr. Penny Spikins-

A group of Neanderthals.

Neanderthals had a sense of compassion

Neanderthals had a sense of compassion. Furthermore, they were affectionate and they worried about the survival of their own. However, a statement like this gives rise to more than one question. Because it might seem that the information a set of bones and skulls can give us would be pretty limited.

Nevertheless, this isn’t the case, because paleontologists don’t look at bones in isolation. In fact, they place them into a setting with objects and further evidence. Indeed, in the field of paleontology, every bone tells a story and reveals a moment from the past. This is what happened at the site of La Chapelle Aux Saints, where they discovered some extremely interesting remains.

They found the remains of an individual close to 40 years old who lived about 60,000 years ago. He was a Neanderthal and, by their standards, very old. Studies conducted by Dr. Penny Spikins at the University of York demonstrated the following:

The old man, the Neanderthal who cared for his social group

The anthropologists called this Neanderthal “the old man”. After analyzing his remains, they concluded the following:

  • The old man was missing many teeth and suffered from severe periodontal disease. This means he would’ve had great difficulty eating and chewing.
  • He suffered from mandibular arthritis.
  • Furthermore, he had osteoarthritis in several vertebrae and the shoulders.
  • He had a rib fracture and a degenerative problem in his right foot.
  • He had severe degeneration in his hip. This suggests he would’ve suffered great pain and difficulty moving.

Nevertheless, none of this prevented him from having a long life, being fed, having his needs taken care of, and being helped to move when the group changed location. Finally, when he died, he was buried extremely carefully.

This isn’t the only case of its kind. There are further records that prove Neanderthals had a sense of compassion. In fact, evidence shows that individuals who suffered injuries from hunting or falls were also cared for. Few were left to their own fate. All this demonstrates that they formed solid bonds and cared about the survival of their own.

A Neanderthal family, showing they had a sense of compassion.

Neanderthals and emotions

The information that specialists obtain every day through fossils and their deposits is extraordinary. Furthermore, as techniques advance, more deposits and samples are discovered. This way, the complex puzzle of our evolution can be reconstructed. One expert in this field is José Maria Bermùdez de Castro, co-director of the Atapuerca project.

He claims that the skeletal remains and particularly the skulls of Neanderthals don’t indicate whether or not they had emotions or feelings. Neither is it clear whether they had a limbic system like us. This is the brain area that orchestrates our emotions.

Nevertheless, not seeing something doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. In fact, if we consider the close genetic proximity between us and the Neanderthals, it would be expected that they too could experience joy, fear, sadness, surprise, and even love.


If there’s one thing that makes us human, it’s emotions, particularly compassion. It would seem that the Neanderthals experienced this particular emotion when it came to taking care of their own and looking after the elderly and wounded.

In addition, archaeologists have found objects that seem to be children’s toys. This would certainly suggest that the social group was important to our genetic cousins.

Consequently, Neanderthals weren’t wild and irrational creatures. In fact, they created collaborative societies where they practiced art and experienced social emotions like affection, compassion, and joy. For this reason, it’s time to change our outdated perception of them, and remember that they form part of our genetic code and, thus, our own history.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • D. L. Hoffmann,, C. D. Standish, M. García-Diez, P. B. Pettitt, U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neandertal origin of Iberian cave art. Science  23 Feb 2018:Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 912-915 DOI: 10.1126/science.aap7778

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.