Neanderthals suffered many gruesome injuries in their day. The precious remains of our ancient-human relatives reveal crushed limbs, fractured skulls, and broken ribs—relics from hunting accidents and warfare. That’s not to mention severe tooth abscesses and broken teeth that would have contributed to severe chronic pain.
Behind these gory details, however, lies the fact that many of these individuals appear to have survived for months or even years after their injuries. They lived to fight another day. This is at odds with some common assumptions about Neanderthals: Compared to modern humans, they are often thought to have lacked the necessary compassion or cognitive abilities to look after the sick. “We can infer from the fact that they survived that they must have been helped by others—and in some cases that help must have been knowledgeable and quite well planned,” says Penny Spikins, an archaeologist at the University of York in the United Kingdom. Their survival would have only been possible, in other words, if they had sophisticated health care.