Did Neanderthals Practice Religion?
It seems we learn more and more about the Neanderthal, our hairy, heavier first cousins, with every passing year. We now know that we have small amounts of Neanderthal DNA within us, and that this “alien” DNA may predispose some of us to certain maladies, like depression. (The Revenge of the Neanderthal!) We can infer from the fact that we are part Neanderthal, albeit a tiny part, that our homo Sapiens ancestors and the Neanderthals, um, shall we say “got along” pretty well at times? (There’s no other way we coulda ended up with that DNA, dudes.) We know the Neanderthal were far more cultured and sophisticated than they were previously given credit for. But were they SPIRITUAL, too?
The discovery of a child’s grave in what is today Spain, dating back 40,000 years, showing clear signs of ornamentation in the form of arranged animal skulls, in addition to similar grave sites discovered in Europe and Asia, would seem to suggest that they were. It makes sense, in that we know they used tools and constructed shelters. Both require complex thought, as does religious conceptualization. It’s a poignant scene, isn’t it? A family of Neanderthal, perhaps an entire tribe, gathered around the grave of a dead infant, mourning exactly as people would mourn today. It’s a far cry from the theory that Neanderthals cannibalized their dead, taking advantage of the meat and discarding the bones, along with those of other animals they consumed. Both are possible interpretations, but discarding the bones in a neat, arranged pattern? I’d say the former explanation is far more likely.