Re: Origins: Neaderthal Burial Customs

Bob Carling (
Fri, 20 Dec 1996 03:50:09 GMT

At 13:00 18/12/96 GMT-5, Bill Frix wrote:
>In reply to Glenn Morton's message of Wed 18 Dec 1996 12:24 CT
>> I forgot something in my reply to Dr. Frix. Today the ONLY being
>> who buries his dead, has a widespread belief in an after life.
>> Neanderthal buried his dead!
>Perhaps. Maybe it was a matter of survival. We know that food left
>out attracts bears and all other forms of undesirable wildlife to our
>campsites. Perhaps Neanderthal buried his dead to improve his
>survival by removing "food" from the predators.
>William M. Frix
>Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering
>Box 3021
>John Brown University
>Siloam Springs, AR 72761
>Phone: (501) 524-7466
>FAX: (501) 524-9548

Another thought: my son (9.5 yrs) recently went on a field trip with his
school (where he was delighted to observe badgers in the wild, something I
have never done). Apparently, the experts on badgers at the field study
centre told him that when a badger dies, its body is then dragged by the
others to the central chamber of the 'set' where they emit several unique
vocalisations which are only performed when one of their set dies, a sort of
burial rite if you like. The body is then dragged to where the animal
normally slept and it is buried in that part of the set by shovelling earth
to seal the body in.

Presumably none of us on this discusssion list would argue (or if they did,
not very strongly!) that badgers are candidates for the Kingdom of heaven.
And yet it seems thay exhibit burial behaviour. So, if Neanderthals bury
their dead, such behaviour is not necessarily an indication of their being
created in the image of God. I am personally not sure how to treat
Neanderthal's theologically, but let's be careful here about what exactly
the argument we are using is trying to prove. Burying our dead, whilst maybe
an indication of our being created in the image of God is only that - an

I am reminded of the discussions years ago about whether language was
'unique' to human beings and therefore a characteristic that can be used to
distinguish us from the beasts. As Donald Mackay all those years ago warned
us (I think in "The Clockwork Image"), it is not an allowance of the "thin
end of the wedge" to recognize the extraordinary creativity of God that he
created some animals with the capacity to reason, possess speech and (it
seems) bury their dead - we are not *that* unique. I think the uniqueness of
humans resides more in the theological realm than in the
physical/morpholocal realm.

Bob Carling
Dr R.C.J. Carling, Home address
Senior Editor, Life Sciences 90 Charlton Road
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