As far as we know Ape Men or the Neanderthal Man was the first to bury its dead. My question is why.

I don't think they practiced religion or believed in spirits or faith or stuff like that. Therefore what was their main reason to bury their dead in the first place?

(Also correct me if I'm wrong but i think that religion only emerged after Homo sapiens came to be.)

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    $\begingroup$ I presume they wouldn't have been able to connect dead bodies with disease (though that's not impossible). So my guess will be something along the lines that seeing dead was an unpleasant stimulus and they figured they can get rid of it by getting it out of sight - under the ground. Or rather more trial-and-error; one randomly buried a dead body and realised it was good and hence the idea was spread and persisted in the population (similarly to how mutations stick around if they improve something; afterall burying the dead is just a meme too). $\endgroup$ – Armatus Jun 7 '13 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ The answer is because they don't taste good. Seriously, We have a fear and natural sense of disgust to being around dead bodies. Other animals do eat their dead, so at least our desire to put the dead bodies away is probably adaptive way before humans. Scent and other signals of disgust are not the reason for the adaptation - its the fact that we tend to die and reproduce poorly when around our own dead. $\endgroup$ – shigeta Jun 7 '13 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ An idea: dead bodies attract potentially dangerous animals. So hide them underground was a strategy to protect the group. $\endgroup$ – Martin Beracochea Jun 7 '13 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ Guys, dead bodies stink. Quite apart from our innate disgust and questions of hygiene, having dead bodies lying around is extremely unpleasant because they smell bad. $\endgroup$ – terdon Jun 7 '13 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking why we decided to bury rather than burn them or eat them, or why we get rid of the bodies at all? As it stands the question is unclear to me. A citation would be great as to where you heard this too. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 18 '16 at 9:02

Some theories:

  1. Dead bodies died of something. In the earliest ages these were generally infection. Burying them protected us from something that could kill us too. This is also why we would be evolutionarily programmed against cannibalism
  2. They make great fertiliser. Burying waste, dead animals etc resulted in the growth of plants etc which not only food we could eat but animals that would then eat the plants we could kill and eat.
  3. Dead bodies are unpleasant. They stink and so we would want to get rid of them. Also they would attract carnivores which are likely to target humans too

All these would be evolutionarily advantageous so any cultures practising burial would be likely to survive and pass on those customs. Whether this is genetic, that's open to debate because I'm not sure.

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    $\begingroup$ For your reason #1, if the dead person died of disease, burying him/her would protect the population at large, but someone still has to bury the guy. I wonder if the unlucky fellow was chosen at random, a criminal or other outcast, or (somehow) found to be immune to the disease(s)? $\endgroup$ – trysis Aug 3 '14 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ Is there any evidence to suggest we weren't generally cannibals (there are still human cannibal tribes on the planet)? Would prehistoric people have known that bodies make great fertiliser? I agree with point three completely, but it still doesn't answer why we would bury a body rather than destroy it in another way. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 18 '16 at 9:06

In my opinion smell could have an impact on why we buried the dead but I also theorize we did this so our family members or friends would not get eaten by a scavanging animal. I would assume being eaten was a constant worry while alive and probably a fear among early man to be eaten after death. That's just my theory though.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer is only speculative opinion - please see the help pages on how to write good answers. $\endgroup$ – rg255 Jan 18 '16 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ @rg255 Strange that you comment on this response being speculative opinion when the above answer (from AndroidPenguin) is more or less identically speculative (just longer and not actually using the phrases 'opinion' or 'my theory'). Both are speculative and incomplete (unsupported) answers. $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Jan 19 '16 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @theforestecologist I commented on this answer because it came to my attention through the review queue system - it's a first post from a new user. I also have no obligation to give feedback on all (or indeed any) of the answers on a question. If you have a problem with someone's answer, then you should direct your criticisms towards that post instead. $\endgroup$ – rg255 Jan 19 '16 at 15:47

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