We humans have and have had, a wide array of rituals for the dead. Ancient cultures did everything from burying their dead in the ground, to creating massive funeral pyres, to offering their deceased to the birds of the air. But who started the practice of death rituals?
I just read an article published on the CNN website discussing the remains of a 41,000-year-old burial of a Neanderthal child. According to the article, the remains were devoid of scavenger marks, meaning the child was buried shortly after the time of death. Did Neanderthals believe in life after death, or was there a more practical reason?
As I read the article, something struck me. Were they burying their dead or were they simply trying to keep preditors from invading their private spaces? According to experts, in the few burials found, evidence of ritual objects were found. It seems they were buried with herbs and/or flowers. Things that could be meant to cover up odors left by a decaying corpse.
My next question was “Did burial rituals happen separately between hominid species or did modern humans learn to bury their dead because of Neanderthal practices”? Did we learn to bury our dead from watching our closest relatives? Was it out of respect or necessity? Did we witness something and not understand the real meaning behind it?
I’ve always believed that modern humans and Neanderthals learned a lot about survival from each other. I have to believe that this is no different. But which species created it and who was the first one to do so out of respect for their loved ones? I believe the origins of burying the dead arose from practical means rather than spiritual ones. I can’t believe that Neanderthals didn’t have some form of love for their kin, but did they believe in an afterlife?
What do you think? Did Neanderthals bury their dead for practical purposes or was it out of respect? Did modern humans learn to bury their dead from Neanderthals, was it something they discovered on their own or was there another reason? Or is this just an issue we should leave dead and buried?