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December 29th, 2009
Web-Exclusive Video: Neanderthal Burial?

One of the more controversial aspects of Neanderthal behavior involves the possibility of ritualized burial practices. Proponents of this idea point to several sites around the world where Neanderthal skeletons appear to be deliberately buried along with artifacts or particular plants, for example. If Neanderthals were treating their dead in these specialized ways, it implies rather sophisticated social behavior.

At Roc de Marsal, a Neanderthal site in France, Alan Alda learns that what had been believed to be a purposeful burial of a Neanderthal child now isn’t looking like such solid proof of ritualistic behavior.

In this video, archaeologists Shannon McPherron, Harold Dibble and Dennis Sandgathe explain to Alan why they no longer believe this site is an example of an intentional burial.

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  • john wagner

    It was nice for all of those years to believe that neandertals actually loved and cared for each other and had the sophistication and respect for their dead that we all assumed they had. science opens a lot of doors and closes just as many. I can’t wait to see the rest of this series

  • Ron Smith

    Seems like nothing more than conjecture for either side of the argument. Not enough data.

  • Kay

    John…don’t be disheartened. If scientists dug up the bones of my little 2 lb. Chihauahaua.. some day, they would not know that she cries big wet tears when I scold her…or when I tell her she can’t have what I am eating (like chocolate).
    They would not know that she will vocalize an “” awww, awwwwww” whine when I tell her she can’t sit in my lap at the moment. They can’t see the bond or love we share…just by finding bones.
    I probably would not bury her toys with her….(her favorite things)….I’m not sure. But it would not mean I didn’t love that little critter like family. I know she will not have another life
    and I know she will never be replaced……but that won’t show in her bones.

  • Jim Mauch

    Perhaps because they do not have our specific spiritual beliefs and behaviors we underestimate the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals. Yes they may not have found it necessary to ritualistically bury their dead to appease the spirits but let us not ignore the fact that these people had the adaptability to survive for over 150,000 years. These primates weren’t complete dummies.

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