Imagine this scene: Inside a cave in Spain, a group of people gather around the grave of a toddler. Hearths with lit fires, marked by 30 horns of animals including bison and red deer, surround the grave. A rhinoceros skull is nearby.
At a conference this fall, archaeologist Enrique Baquedano and his colleagues described this scene as a probable funeral ritual held 40,000 years ago by Neanderthals.
That announcement contains a mix of both hard data — the child's bones and the animal horns and skull — and informed speculation suggesting that these data point to a community funeral ritual.
The archaeologists' scenario relates closely to questions I have been thinking about: Did the Neanderthals practice religion? How would we know it, if they did?
Let's approach these questions by placing Neanderthals in evolutionary context. It's now clear that Neanderthals are our cousins, not our direct ancestors or early members of our own species Homo sapiens. Known formally as Homo neandertalensis, Neanderthals lived in Europe and Asia, overlapping in certain places at certain time periods with Homo sapiens — and almost certainly interbreeding with them (with us!) on occasion. [...] NPR