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Human life expectancy has come a long way in an incredibly short amount of time, so you would be forgiven for thinking that the custom of caring for our elders is a similarly recent development in human culture. However, studies are showing that caring for the ageing members of society is something that humans have been doing for millennia. explored the evidence and studies supporting this theory, and presented some pretty compelling things we can learn from our ancestors.

1. Caregiving is genetic

Anthropologist Erik Trinkaus presented evidence of the burial, some 50,000 years ago, of a Neandertal individual who not only had debilitating injuries, but lived with them for some time. According to Trinkaus, this individual has lost a forearm, suffered from a limp, and was deaf. Without help from their fellows, it would have been very difficult for this individual to survive.

2. People depended on their elders

Despite their typical slowness and frailty, the older members of society still had much to offer – taking the time to pass down their knowledge. Those elders were regarded as experts in the day-to-day necessities of crafting weapons, telling edible plants from poisonous, and turning animal skins into clothing and bedding. Around 50,000 years ago, an increase in general human longevity is believed to have led to marked cultural advances for humans.

3. Caregiving is a virtue

Ancient civilisations in China and Rome considered showing respect and caring for one’s elders was a mark of honour. Confucianism refers to this as filial piety. The idea that elders would regularly be sent to die alone on an ice floe is now regarded as a myth – an unthinkable action that would likely only have occurred in times of desperate need or hardship.

4. It takes a village

In ancient times, when society was much less developed than today, humans needed to hunt and forage daily just to survive, meaning that the task of caring for elders and the injured was likely shared by those beyond the immediate family.

How do you think caregiving will develop as human society progresses in the future?