Archaeology Magazine

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European Neanderthals Buried Their Dead

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

burial-pit-131216NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Skeptics have long argued that Neanderthals in Europe did not bury their dead, an activity that implies sophisticated symbolic thought. While Neanderthal burials have been unearthed in the Near East, many believed it was a tradition borrowed from anatomically modern Humans, with whom Neanderthals could have been in contact during the period when the graves were originally dug. Now a team led by New York University anthropologist William Rendu has carried out excavations at caves in La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southwestern France, where a purported Neanderthal burial was discovered in 1908. In re-excavating the site, the anthropologists discovered unambiguous evidence that two Neanderthal children and one adult were buried in a pit at La Chapelle-aux-Saints long before modern humans reached Europe. "It is novel evidence that Neanderthals were able to develop, by themselves, some complex symbolic thought," said Rendu. "The behavioral distance between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans seems to become even thinner."