Dr. Benjamin Pykles: Presidential Scholars Advisor
Quantifying Time Expenditure Associated with Neanderthal Burials and its Implications
The meaning and function of Neanderthal burials has been debated since their discovery. Some have argued for a symbolic interpretation, while others have advocated a purely functional use of burial. These arguments are often based on the absence or ambiguity of grave offerings in combination with little other archaeological evidence suggesting symbolic thought among the Neanderthals. Nevertheless, Paul Mellars (1996) has argued that to create a Neanderthal burial would require a great investment of time and energy. Through experimental archaeology, I have attempted to quantify time expenditure associated with the act of digging inhumation pits using Middle Paleolithic stone tools to help understand the role of burials within Neanderthal society. Results from the experiment suggest the act of burying an individual would have required a great deal of time or manpower. As expected, there was an inverse relationship between the amount of time invested in the digging act and the number of individuals participating in the process. By contextualizing this data within our current understanding of the size, compassion, and site utilization among hominin groups, I argue that Neanderthal burials represent a social act beyond the simple disposal of an individual. The investment of time or manpower required for such burials supports the idea that Neanderthals possessed social or emotional bonds with each other and their dead.