Science | History | Geography | PSHE

The world’s oldest human love story

Is maternal love what makes us unique? The amazing story of Qafzeh, aged 13, who lived 100,000 years ago, raises profound questions about the origins and power of human devotion. A mother buries her child. Ever since the accident, she has done all she can for the child. But now, they are gone. Qafzeh 11 lived 100,000 years ago. Recently scientists discovered the child had brain damage. For some years, they had been cared for and then buried. Why is this important? It shows nomadic hunter-gatherers protecting and loving their children. Can this ancient love story explain how humanity become the most successful species on the planet? Yes, says science writer Chip Walter. He argues hominins “invented childhood”. They were bipedal and had bigger brains, so their babies had to be born “early”. Infants depended on their parents for much longer. “Caring helps us cooperate and cooperation helps us compete,” says biologist Nicholas Longrich. Parents form long-term bonds and use social networks to help raise their children. They rely on relatives and the welfare state. So civilisation is built on love? Not exactly, says primatologist Dario Maestripieri. He argues we have a lot in common with the rhesus macaque. Monkeys and humans are expert liars and manipulators, using politics to climb the social ladder. “Machiavellian intelligence is not something we can be proud of,” says Maestripieri, “but it may be the secret of our success.” Qafzeh 11 was one of the first modern humans to live outside Africa. At the time, there were six human species, including the NeanderthalsAn extinct hominid species that lived alongside Homo sapiens until around 40,000 years ago. Their ancestry began in Africa, like ours, but neanderthals migrated to Europe and Asia long before humans. They looked like us but were shorter and stockier with angled cheekbones, prominent brows and wide noses. . They interbred with modern humans. “Neanderthals were different from Homo sapiens,” says Nicholas Longrich, “but enough like us that we could love them, and they, us.” We have up to 4% of their genes, so “a love story is literally written into our DNA.” This is an important question in a world facing war and climate crisis: are we a species of cooperation or conflict, love or hate? Is maternal love what makes us unique? Family ties Yes: Many animals use tools, communicate and solve problems, but only humans teach. This is because we are born entirely dependent on our parents. Without their love and guidance, we cannot survive. No: We are not the only species to show love for our offspring. All mammals are born defenceless, literally toothless, and depend on their mother's milk for survival. Or... Love is a mixed blessing. The bond between parent and child holds families together. But they also make us overly protective, inward-looking and suspicious of strangers and outsiders.   KeywordsWelfare state - A safety net put in place by the government to ensure that no-one falls into poverty.

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