Evidence of Compassionate Care

as a hominid trait

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Evidence of Compassionate Care

#1  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 20, 2015 10:43 pm

Following certain... discussions... recently on this forum, it was suggested that I make a thread providing some of the evidence showing that early Homo sapiens, and even our ancient hominid forebears had communities which cared for the members of their tribes, providing for the well-being of their injured fellows who had suffered some form of physical impediment that would, in other species, have resulted in certain death from exposure, starvation, or predation.

I am going to add to this thread over time as there is lots of evidence, but most of my access to it is off-line, so I will need to either do long write-ups, or find links to present this evidence.

In this thread, examples will range in dates from as far back as H. erectus through to H. sapiens in Europe in the late Pleistocene.

I'll try to post in chronological order, but there's bound to be a lot I don't remember or just never heard of, so they might become a little out of order. I'll make sure to add dates to clarify this.

So, for this first post, I will start with an example from Homo erectus.

First some background:

Homo erectus lived from around 1.9 million years ago until around 70,000 years ago. Its range stretched across all of Africa, across the Arabian peninsula, India, East Asia and into Java

Image


The dark green shows the distribution of erectus with red spots indicating sites of discoveries. The light green shows the range in Europe where H ergaster discoveries have been made - for the purposes of this thread, we can consider ergaster as a variety of erectus - the African variety - and thanks to other discoveries made, this is slowly becoming the consensus position.

The example fossil I want to present is actually one of the first discoveries of this species. It was discovered by one of the earliest Palaeoanthropologists, Eugène Dubois - in Trinil, Java in the 1890's. Dubois had been fascinated by Darwin's theory of evolution, and had set out to find evidence of human ancestors in Asia.

The site of the find:
Image


Aside from sections of the cranium, other post-cranial fossils were also recorded. One of these is of the femur of an adult which had suffered a major leg trauma that can be seen by the resulting heterotrophic ossification.

Heterotopic ossification is when bone tissue forms outside of the skeleton, calcifying the muscle tissue and eventually turning it to bone. This can be congenital or caused by severe trauma. In the case of the specimen Dubois found, the resulting calcification and ossification is a huge, jagged ridge of bone which would have stuck out several inches into the thigh muscles.


Dubois' find below, currently housed at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Netherlands

Image


Today, we would treat something like this with a healthy dose of radiation long before it became so large. Having even a small jagged piece of bone form in your leg muscle would be severely debilitating, and for an individual who would need to hunt or gather food, this would spell death - mobility would be impaired, and every step would be painful - effectively movement of the leg would probably have been near impossible without severe pain.

Yet clearly this guy or gal (probably gal) from approximately 700,000 years ago survived sufficiently long for that huge calcified and ossified mass of woven bone ridge to grow so large - a process which would have taken many months, or even years.

Given such a debilitating condition, the resulting conclusion is that this individual was part of a group which continued to provide palliative support for him/her, including provision of food and water, and transportation.


Next up: H. neanderthalensis
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#2  Postby Thommo » Oct 20, 2015 11:22 pm

:thumbup:
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#3  Postby mcgruff » Oct 20, 2015 11:43 pm

Maybe in fact they didn't like her at all. She could have begged for death but they kept her alive all that time. Suffering.

Convincing evidence of early torture I think ;)
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#4  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 20, 2015 11:45 pm

mcgruff wrote:Maybe in fact they didn't like her at all. She could have begged for death but they kept her alive all that time. Suffering.

Convincing evidence of early torture I think ;)


:lol:

Actually, there's ample evidence of that - or at least rather nasty types of violence inflicted!
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#5  Postby Corneel » Oct 21, 2015 12:12 am

I'm reminded of "Good Omens"

He rather liked people. It was a major failing in a demon.
Oh, he did his best to make their short lives miserable, because that was his job, but nothing he could think up was half as bad as the stuff they thought up themselves. They seemed to have a talent for it. It was built into the design, somehow. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse.
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Just when you'd think they were more malignant than ever Hell could be, they could occasionally show more grace than Heaven ever dreamed of. Often the same individual was involved. It was this freewill thing, of course. It was a bugger.
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#6  Postby hackenslash » Oct 21, 2015 12:15 am

Breath bated!

I wonder what discussion this stemmed from? I must have missed it (or the relevant portion), since these traits are fairly obvious in other mammals. Anybody who's watched Meerkat Manor has seen this behaviour.

Nonetheless, this thread looks to be interesting. I look forward to it.
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#7  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 21, 2015 12:24 am

hackenslash wrote:Breath bated!

I wonder what discussion this stemmed from?


http://www.rationalskepticism.org/news- ... l#p2319720

Some people - as I am obliged to lend them the benefit of the doubt - today argue that members of their society which are non-productive would be better off dead, or even better off never having been born because they are of no worth to their society.


hackenslash wrote: I must have missed it (or the relevant portion), since these traits are fairly obvious in other mammals. Anybody who's watched Meerkat Manor has seen this behaviour.

Nonetheless, this thread looks to be interesting. I look forward to it.



Quite true - it's actually observable in many social mammalian species, but particularly so in primates, even more so in the apes, yet more so in the great apes, and of course, some humans go so far as to design their societies around compassionate care of their members.

But yeah, it's not going to be a surprise to anyone who's bothered to pay attention to anything beyond their own self-interest, or who even someone who possesses the most elementary degree of humanity and empathy for their fellows.

Still, it's an opportunity to bring the Anthropology section some much-needed love! :)
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#8  Postby hackenslash » Oct 21, 2015 12:27 am

Ah, mrjonno. Say no more.

Anyhoo, great thrust for a thread, and I look forward to it.
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#9  Postby kennyc » Oct 21, 2015 11:41 am

Great stuff Spearthrower! Thanks!
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#10  Postby Calilasseia » Oct 21, 2015 12:03 pm

Well I've already presented papers devoted to compassionate and prosocial behaviour in other primates in another thread, so I think I'll let Spearthrower continue taking centre stage here. :)
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#11  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 21, 2015 1:03 pm

Calilasseia wrote:Well I've already presented papers devoted to compassionate and prosocial behaviour in other primates in another thread, so I think I'll let Spearthrower continue taking centre stage here. :)



I thought I'd post a more informational thread rather than just citing papers (this subforum needs more content after all), and also stick to humans rather than other primates, but there are quite a few in the palaeoanthropological literature too.

I'll do the next, which is H. heidelbergensis in a few hours! :)
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Re: Evidence of Compassionate Care

#12  Postby Cnidarian_King » Aug 27, 2016 6:55 pm

Moving into the Pleistocene...

One of the best known examples is that of a male individual from the site of Shanidar (Iraq) who survived an unrepaired fracture of the right arm above the elbow (2). Subsequently, his upper arm became atrophied and nonfunctional, and he may have lost his right hand and forearm entirely. In addition, this individual was likely partially blind and deaf, and had difficulties with locomotion. As the Shanidar 1 man apparently survived until an advanced age for a Neandertal (ca. 40 years), it has been argued that his survival was possible only because he received support from other adults in the group.

http://www.pnas.org/content/106/16/6429.full

We know the Neandertals were hunters of large prey and suffered many injuries found on their skeleton because of this. They were also working long hours to produce their own clothing, shelter and food supply. To go out of their way to feed another member of the group who did not provide any palpable benefit has convinced me of compassion in this case.
Could it be that old Withered-Arm provided some useful information to the group about hunting locations therefore making him a utility and then not a case of selfless compassion? Hmmm....
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