Compassion in Homo erectus 1.8 million years ago began to be regulated as an emotion integrated with rational thought, the researchers said.
Care of sick individuals showed compassion towards others while special treatment of the dead suggested grief at the loss of a loved one and a desire to soothe individuals.
In modern humans starting 120,000 years ago, compassion was extended to strangers, animals, objects and abstract concepts.
Dr Spikins, who led the study, said new research developments such as neuro-imaging have enabled archaeologists to attempt a scientific explanation of what were once intangible feelings of ancient humans.
She said: "Compassion is perhaps the most fundamental human emotion.
"It binds us together and can inspire us but it is also fragile and elusive. This apparent fragility makes addressing the evidence for the development of compassion in our most ancient ancestors a unique challenge, yet the archaeological record has an important story to tell about the prehistory of compassion.
"We have traditionally paid a lot of attention to how early humans thought about each other, but it may well be time to pay rather more attention to whether or not they 'cared'."
Amazing how milliomns of years of developement can be destroyed by a decade or two in Islington.