For the first time, archaeologists have found a complete Neanderthal skeleton, indicating an intentional burial. The find was made in the famous Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the so-called "flower burial" was discovered in the 1950s, after which a debate arose among scientists about whether Neanderthals could bury their dead. A description of the find is given in the Antiquity magazine.
Archaeologists have been working in Shanidar cave for a long time. 50 years ago, archaeologist Ralph Solecki discovered the remains of 10 Neanderthals there. One of the skeletons was surrounded by lumps of pollen, which gave Soletsky reason to assert that the Neanderthals had their own funeral rites, and flowers were placed in the grave next to the dead.
The so-called "flower burial" gave rise to a long-term dispute about whether the Neanderthals, who were previously considered semi-animals, were really at a level of development when it is possible to talk about funeral rites.
More than 50 years later, in the same Shanidar cave, anthropologists made an amazing find - the first in 20 years of excavations, a complete articulated Neanderthal skeleton with all signs of deliberate burial. The body was laid in a gully in the cave floor, washed with water, which was specially deepened. The skeleton was named Shanidar Z.
The excavation of the Neanderthal man began in 2016, when scientists managed to notice the rib bone at the bottom of the trench. In 2018, archaeologists "dug" to the skull, which was crushed as a result of a rockfall.
Scientists hope that the excellent preservation of the skeleton will allow them, using modern research technologies, to learn a lot about the life of Neanderthals and shed light on controversial issues regarding their burial rituals.
“Obtaining primary material of this quality from this renowned Neanderthal site will allow us to use modern technology to explore everything from ancient DNA to clarifying long-standing questions about Neanderthal burial methods and whether they were similar to ours,” the Cambridge press release said. University of the first author of the article, British archaeologist Emma Pomeroy (Emma Pomeroy). "Investigation of how Neanderthals treated their dead should include a return to finds made sixty or even a hundred years ago, when archaeological methods were more limited."
In the meantime, scientists can only say that the found Neanderthal died in middle age - this is indicated by his teeth, and the absolute age of the remains is about 70 thousand years.
Now the bones found are being examined by scientists from the University of Cambridge. A primary scan of the Neanderthal man's skull showed that the most dense bone capable of holding DNA was preserved and there is a chance to conduct more in-depth research. The authors note that the discovery of such a preservation skeleton was an extraordinary success.
“We were already happy that we had the opportunity to go to the place where the Neanderthals were found in the 1950s and take the surrounding sediments for dating,” says Graeme Barker of the University of Cambridge Institute of Archeology. expected to find the bones of the Neanderthals."
In recent years, growing evidence - from the marking of caves to the decorative use of shells and claws of birds of prey - indicates that Neanderthals were more advanced than previously thought.
The fact that, in addition to the last find, four more previous ones, including the "flower burial", were found in the floor of one cave, according to the authors, formed what is called a "unique aggregate" in archeology.
"If we could prove that the Neanderthals used Shanidar Cave as a re-ritual burial site for their dead, it would indicate a fairly high cultural complexity," says Pomeroy.