The Burial of the Dead
The Neanderthals did not only bury their dead; they also cared for the young, the sick, the elderly and ailing. This is a trait humans associate with being human; we care for those that require care. In many circumstances, an individual would not survive injury or illness without care. Skeletal evidence found at Neanderthal sites shows that they, like modern humans, cared for the elderly and ill. Some Neanderthals lived long lives, survived broken bones or other serious injuries, or dealt with dental issues that would have limited their ability to chew and eat. In addition, they clearly valued their children, and were caring parents.
Neanderthal infants and children were quite robust, and grew somewhat faster than modern humans. They reached full physical maturity by 15 years old. During childhood, they learned from their elders. Higher primates, like apes, have childhood games, and it is likely that Neanderthal children played peek-a-boo, chase, and other games familiar to modern infants, toddlers and young children. Flint knapping sites show evidence of children learning how to knap flint. Children certainly would have had to learn how to hunt and gather, how to craft and use tools, and how to survive in their challenging environment. While skeletal findings show that many Neanderthal children died quite young, evidence from burials and the bodies suggests that they were valued members of their family groups.
Family groups did not only care for their children, but also for their sick. The skeletons of Neanderthals show that injured Neanderthals were brought back to the family group and habitat. These individuals were cared for in the home, sometimes for years, following a serious injury. While archaeology cannot provide evidence for the use of any sort of plant-based medicine, the Neanderthals certainly carried food to the injured, may have shredded or chewed it for them, brought water to the individual, and kept a hurt person warm and safe. This is a significant investment of resources, for an individual who could not provide direct benefit to the group.