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Neanderthal Children Formed Strong Emotional Bonds with Other Members of the Group

Apr 10, 2014 12:17 PM EDT

(Photo : University of York)

New research suggests that children living in Neanderthal communities had strong social ties with other members of the society and that they played to learn skills.

Neanderthals were an offshoot of the primate line that gave rise to Homo sapiens. Neanderthals are often considered to be a sub-group devoid of any intelligence or social skills.  The Neanderthal group moved out of Africa to Eurasia and completely disappeared from the world about 30,000 years back. Other studies have shown that Neanderthals might have lived near the Arctic Circle around 31,000 to 34,000 years ago.

Cognitive ability and teamwork helped early humans gain advantage over other hominins. For years, archaeologists believed that the group died because Neanderthal members couldn't make closely-knitted societies.

However, other research has shown that they were efficient homemakers, were able to develop hand-axe designs and even buried their dead- traits often associated with humans.

The latest study by researchers at University of York and colleagues shows that contrary to popular belief, Neanderthal children spent early years forming social ties and learning skills needed to become useful members of the society.

According to the research team, Neanderthals cared for the sick and injured children for several months or even years, suggesting that they weren't entirely devoid of higher cognitive functions.

The study also showed that young, when they died, were buried with elaborate rituals.

"The traditional view sees Neanderthal childhood as unusually harsh, difficult and dangerous. This accords with preconceptions about Neanderthal inferiority and an inability to protect children epitomizing Neanderthal decline," said Penny Spikins, one of the study authors. 

"Our research found that a close attachment and particular attention to children is a more plausible interpretation of the archaeological evidence, explaining an unusual focus on infants and children in burial, and setting Neanderthal symbolism within a context which is likely to have included children," Spikins added in a news release.

The study is published in the journal Oxford Journal of Archaeology. 

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