A science article published by the New York Times this week struck me as odd: Ancient Bones That Tell a Story of Compassion.
At an exhumed burial site in Vietnam, archaeologists have uncovered an ancient skeleton which they say demonstrates prehistoric “health care”:
Almost all the other skeletons at the site, south of Hanoi and about 15 miles from the coast, lie straight. Burial 9, as both the remains and the once living person are known, was laid to rest curled in the fetal position. When Ms. Tilley, a graduate student in archaeology, and Dr. Oxenham, a professor, excavated and examined the skeleton in 2007 it became clear why. His fused vertebrae, weak bones and other evidence suggested that he lies in death as he did in life, bent and crippled by disease.
They gathered that he became paralyzed from the waist down before adolescence, the result of a congenital disease known as Klippel-Feil syndrome. He had little, if any, use of his arms and could not have fed himself or kept himself clean. But he lived another 10 years or so.
They concluded that the people around him who had no metal and lived by fishing, hunting and raising barely domesticated pigs, took the time and care to tend to his every need. …
And earlier this year, in proposing what she calls a “bioarchaeology of care,” Ms. Tilley wrote that this field of study “has the potential to provide important — and possibly unique — insights into the lives of those under study.” In the case of Burial 9, she says, not only does his care indicate tolerance and cooperation in his culture, but suggests that he himself had a sense of his own worth and a strong will to live. Without that, she says, he could not have stayed alive.
Am I the only one who thinks a story like this is odd? What discovery was made here, exactly? Were these archaeologists or Times reporters assuming that the weak and lame were just left to die or, even worse, killed by others in their tribe? Obviously there have been societies in history where this would’ve been the case, but I believe those to be an exception rather than the rule.
Is it really so far-fetched to assume that compassion is a character trait we humans inherit from our oldest ancestors and, if I may interject religion to this scientific discussion, from our Creator?
What do you think? Are you surprised by these findings?