Researchers found that groups living in Europe between 500,000 and 40,000 years ago took care of sick or wounded individuals over a period of many years.
The interdependence of early communities, who would hunt and eat together, let to an emerging commitment to the welfare of others.
The University of York study, published in the journal Time and Mind, examined archaeological remains to see how emotions emerged from our ancestors.
The researchers’ evidence showed how a child with a congenital brain abnormality was not abandoned but lived until five or six years old.
It also showed how a Neanderthal with a withered arm, deformed feet and blindness in one eye was taken care of for up to two decades.