Archaeologists investigate Neanderthal cave in northern Iraq, as ISIS gets beaten back


A few days ago we talked about how some researchers are countering the ISIS threat to preserved history through digital archaeology. And now as the terror outfit/state is slowly but surely losing out on many of its territories (especially in northern Iraq), conventional archaeologists are getting back into the conflict zones to resume their study of the rich cultural history of the region. Now of course, this scope of studying is not only limited to analysis of the sites, but also pertains to reclamation and preservation of several looted and partially destroyed artifacts – the latter part being fueled by ISIS and even some private antiquity dealers who took advantage of the ensuing chaos. And one of the first positive steps in such a ambit, was taken by a team of archaeologists, who had recently returned and successfully reassessed the Shanidar Cave, a site located on Bradost Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan, that was originally inhabited by Neanderthals.

Originally excavated and studied by a team from Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, led by Ralph Solecki from 1952-60, the Shanidar Cave was an impressive find, given its rarity that pertained to Neatherthal burial systems. Furthermore, the researchers back then found some pretty interesting clues related to the skeletal remains of the ten Neanderthals buried inside. For example, in one of the specimens officially denoted as Shanidar 1 (nicknamed ‘Nandy’), the experts assessed that the old male suffered numerous injuries and deformations over his long lifetime. And yet many of his physical conditions had seemingly healed over time, which suggested that Neanderthals ‘medically’ cared for each other.


Photo courtesy of Graeme Barker.

This time around, the new team of researchers found additional bones, and are also looking forth to locate additional skeletons that might still exist inside the ancient cave. As one of the passages of a research article recently published in the Antiquity journal, read –

Around the findspot of the Neanderthal individual—Shanidar V—discovered by Solecki, we have found further Neanderthal remains including a hamate, the distal ends of the right tibia and fibula, and some articulated ankle bones, scattered fragments of two vertebrae, a rib and long bone fragments. The tibia and fibula were in articulation with the ankle bones and lay, foot uppermost, on an approximately 45ᵒ slope. These elements are missing from the list presented by Trinkhaus (1983), making it probable that they belong to Shanidar V, although a new individual cannot be ruled out.

Interestingly, the intriguing scope of the Shanidar Cave is not just limited to the healing part or even the actual habitation zone of the Neanderthals. It also pertains to how experts initially believed that the Neanderthal people possibly followed a ritualistic protocol for their funerals that entailed fresh flowers being buried alongside the dead. However later studies, including a recently conducted one, found that the pollen might have been carried naturally into the caves. The usual suspects are the bees; but researchers have additionally hypothesized that native rodents like the the Persian jird, might also played their part in depositing the pollen inside, which may have resulted in flowers.


Source: Smithsonian / Via: Live Science

Book Reference: The Proto-Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave (By Ralph S. Solecki, Rose L. Solecki, Anagnostis P).

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