Living to fight another day: The ecological and evolutionary significance of Neanderthal healthcare
Evidence of care for the ill and injured amongst Neanderthals, inferred through skeletal evidence for survival from severe illness and injury, is widely accepted. However, healthcare practices have been viewed primarily as an example of complex cultural behaviour, often discussed alongside symbolism or mortuary practices. Here we argue that care for the ill and injured is likely to have a long evolutionary history and to have been highly effective in improving health and reducing mortality risks. Healthcare provisioning can thus be understood alongside other collaborative ‘risk pooling’ strategies such as collaborative hunting, food sharing and collaborative parenting. For Neanderthals in particular the selective advantages of healthcare provisioning would have been elevated by a variety of ecological conditions which increased the risk of injury as well their particular behavioural adaptations which affected the benefits of promoting survival from injury and illness. We argue that healthcare provisioning was not only a more significant evolutionary adaptation than has previously been acknowledged, but moreover may also have been essential to Neanderthal occupation at the limits of the North Temperate Zone.