Neanderthal Ritual and Ceremony
Ritual and ceremony do not survive; the Neanderthals left no written records, and very little other visual evidence of their existence. They built no temples that exist, even in the most minimal way, nor did they leave behind legends and myths. Nonetheless, modern archaeology has found evidence of ritual and ceremony in the lives of the Neanderthals of Europe and the Middle East. In 1956, several Neanderthal skeletons were discovered in Shanidar, a location in Northern Iraq. A key discovery was made alongside these skeletons. The bodies were found with pollen, indicating that flowers had been picked and placed alongside the dead.
In Uzbekistan, a child’s grave was found, surrounded by animal horns and evidence of a number of small fires. Other burials show evidence of animal skulls. In at least one case, some bear bones were found in the grave, and others, showing signs that the animal had been eaten, in a nearby space. This could suggest the possibility of a funeral meal. Other Neanderthal graves have tools place on the body. It is essential to also remember that many items simply cannot survive 40,000 to 60,000 years or more of decay. Feathers, wood, baskets, and plant matter is likely to decay without leaving any evidence.
Both flowers and horns can broadly be thought of as grave goods; grave goods are anything buried with the dead. In many cases, the presence of grave goods implies a belief in a sort of afterlife. The survivors provide the dead with items to help their journey or existence in the afterlife. There is no specific way to know the religious beliefs of the Neanderthal people, but they do show signs of some form of ritual and belief.
Evidence of fires and animal slaughter around graves further support the idea that the Neanderthals engaged in rituals; at least around death and mourning. If they practiced funerary rituals, they may have engaged in other forms of ritual activity.