Calculated or caring? Neanderthal healthcare in social context

Penny Spikins*, Andy Needham, Lorna Tilley, Gail Hitchens

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    32 Citations (Scopus)


    Explanations for patterns of healed trauma in Neanderthals have been a matter of debate for several decades. Despite widespread evidence for recovery from injuries or survival despite impairments, apparent evidence for healthcare is given limited attention. Moreover, interpretations of Neanderthals’ approach to injury and suffering sometimes assume a calculated or indifferent attitude to others. Here the authors review evidence for Neanderthal healthcare, drawing on a bioarchaeology of care approach and relating healthcare to other realms of Neanderthal social life. The authors argue that Neanderthal medical treatment and healthcare was widespread and part of a social context of strong pro-social bonds which was not distinctively different from healthcare seen in later contexts. They suggest that the time has come to accept Neanderthal healthcare as a compassionate and knowledgeable response to injury and illness, and to turn to other questions, such as cultural variation or the wider significance of healthcare in an evolutionary context.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)384-403
    Number of pages20
    JournalWorld Archaeology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2018


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