The Origins of Kindness and Compassion

The milk of human kindness came before intelligence:

Skulls of early humans show they developed compassion up to 3 million years ago – before they could even speak.

Early humans are likely to have developed emotions before intelligence. Around 3 million years ago they carried pebbles shaped like a baby’s face.

Homo Erectus was caring for the ill as long ago as 1.5 million years ago.

Early humans developed language skills and intelligence 500,000 years ago.

This study suggests kindness and compassion came before intelligence and may have helped early humans develop reasoning skills and speech.


Early humans carried pebbles shaped like babies’ faces and appeared to care for disabled children in a sign they developed kindness and compassion millions of years before intelligence, researchers have claimed.

Evidence has been found that humans living more than 3 million years ago may have looked after and even helped each other to survive before they learned to speak, and these emotions may have actually helped intelligence and reasoning evolve.

Researchers point to a skull, dating back 1.5 million years, found with no teeth, suggesting people in the group may have helped this early human find soft food to survive. And evidence of tracks found in east Africa – dating back 3.5 million years – appear to show adults being followed by a child.

The findings, revealed in a study by Penny Spikins of York University, undermine current theories that early humans were characterized by violence and competition, killing each other in a desperate battle to survive.

‘Evolution made us sociable, living in groups and looking after each one another, even before we had language, ‘ Spikins, a human origins researcher, told the Sunday Times. ‘Our success since then, including the evolution of intelligence, all sprang from that.’

Spikins cites an early example of the Makapansgat pebble, found in a cave in South Africa with Australopithecines – which date back approximately 3 million years. She suggests the pebble, which has pits and markings shaped like a baby’s face, may have been carried several miles by these early humans because the markings reminded Australopithecines of a child.

‘It is impossible for tell for sure but this is not the only tantalizing sign of something perhaps approaching tenderness,’ she added. Language skills and intelligence are thought to have developed in the past 500,000 years and maybe as late as 150,000 years ago.

In another example Spikins cites a Dmanisi skull, dating back 1.5 million years, which showed evidence of someone surviving for years with no teeth. The group probably helped this early Hominin, a Homo Erectus found in Georgia, find soft food so it could survive. Another Homo Erectus skull was found in Kenya, which showed evidence of it being cared for after a long illness.

Spikins also points to groups of Homo Heidelbergensis, which lived around 450,000 years ago, who cared for disabled youngsters. A deformed skull of a child with learning difficulties from this period was found in Spain.

Evidence is also seen in some of the objects created by early man. A hand axe, believed to have been created around 250,000 years ago, was found in West Tofts in Norfolk with a fossilized scallop shell as the centerpiece. Rather than being purely functional, the presence of this scallop shell suggests early humans may have had a sense of aesthetics and creativity when creating the tool.

Spikins suggests that the combination of evidence of care and compassion, as well as creativity in making tools, is evidence of feelings millions of years ago. She said that while competition and fighting did happen it would have been a ‘risky’ business in the struggle to survive. ‘It suggests early humans, from 2 million years ago, were emotionally similar to us,’ she added. Spikins’ findings are to be published in a book, How Compassion Made Us Human.

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MY QUESTION: But is caring and compassion just a “human characteristic?”

The Origins of Kindness and Compassion