Yet despite the youngster's severe disability, he or she was apparently cared for, in life and in death. Despite lacking the ability to survive on his or her own, the Paleolithic child lived for several years after the head injury. And when the child died, someone wanted to honor his or her memory by placing the deer antlers in his or her burial — a funerary marker that wasn't found in any of the other burials at the site, Coqueugniot said.
"He was very, very special in this group, and he has a very, very special burial," Coqueugniot said.
The findings are not the oldest example of compassion and care for the disabled in a hominid; a 500,000-year-old fossil human from Sima de los Huesos in Spain shows signs of severe brain deformity starting at birth, but that child still lived to age 5, which mean someone cared for the child despite his or her disorder.
But the Qafzeh child reveals a striking example of compassion and care for the disabled in early modern humans, who are anatomically similar to humans today, said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the department of human evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
It's not clear that head trauma caused brain development to halt, said Hublin, who was not involved in the study. "There is a large variation in brain size among humans, and this is perceptible already in infancy and childhood," Hublin told Live Science.
Therefore, the child may have simply have started out with a small brain, which would have remained relatively small as he or she grew, he said.
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