Neanderthal Hearts

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In 1989, archeologists discovered the fossilized ear bone of a Neanderthal child at Valencia’s Cova Negra, in Spain.

At the time, researchers didn’t pay too much attention to it, although the cave had been occupied by the extinct human relatives 146,000 to 273,000 years ago.

But a new study on the child’s ear added some new insights into Neanderthal caregiving and their capacity to care for each other.

Lead author Mercedes Conde-Valverde and her colleagues used computer tomography scans to create a 3D model of the bone, which revealed that it belonged to a child between the ages of six and 10.

Affectionately naming her “Tina,” the study showed that little Neanderthal girl’s ear bone had characteristics of Down syndrome, such as an enlarged vestibular aqueduct and a small cochlea.

This was surprising because it meant that Tina was at least six years old when she died, suggesting it wasn’t just the mother taking care of the child.

The Stone Age was no playground for children, especially Tina, who had to deal with disabilities such as hearing loss, vertigo and muscle weakness, according to the authors.

“The individual would have needed continuous and intensive care,” Conde-Valverde told CNN.

The team proposed that the entire Neanderthal community cared for Tina and helped the mother, even though this aid was not practical or reciprocal in nature.

In plain terms, the allegedly brutish cavemen cared for the child out of the goodness of their heart.

The paper adds to a growing body of research that the Neanderthal had complex social bonds and an evolved instinct to care for their members.

Other instances of Neanderthal care include the “Old Man of La Chapelle in France, who had degenerative arthritis and possibly required feeding assistance, and an adult male from Shanidar Cave in Iraq, who survived severe disabilities thanks to the support of his group.

“What was not known until now was any case of an individual who had received help, even if they could not return the favor, which would prove the existence of true altruism among Neanderthals,” Conde-Valverde said in a statement. “That is precisely what the discovery of ‘Tina’ means.”

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