There can be no more profound insight into the human mind than the complex cultural practices surrounding death. While all human cultures across the globe today engage in funerary practices, the emergence of funerary behavior is one of the most contentious aspects in the field of human evolution. 

New methodological approaches on taphonomy field can help elucidate fundamental facets of hominin behavior making important contributions to the understanding of our ancestors. The European fossil record is a key source of information in this regard due to the relative abundance of fossil skeleton, many of which have been interpreted as burials, and the possibility for biological and cultural interactions between different human species. Nevertheless, direct taphonomic analyses on these human fossils are rare and essentially limited to those cases with possible signs of cannibalism. 

The present application proposes a multidisciplinary research project to investigate the origin of funerary behavior during the Middle Pleistocene and to trace this behavior throughout the European Paleolithic archaeological record. 

This project aims to address the dearth of taphonomic studies on Paleolithic hominins and represents the first large-scale project focused on a thorough multi-taphonomic study of the European fossil record. This involves the participation of a wide team of scholars and a network of methods including classical and innovative taphonomic analyses, virtual reconstructions for forensic analysis, study of spatial distribution patterns, the global relationship of different sites, and mathematical models to interconnect the broad-spectrum data gathered. The results have the potential to significantly alter our views on behavioral aspects of European Paleolithic populations. In particular, the results will examine whether mortuary practices and, hence a culture of death, predated the appearance of modern humans and Neandertals.