Neanderthal buried with flowers


Recent excavations in Kurdish Iraq have uncovered the remains of an ‘articulated’ skeleton – one where the bones are still arranged in their original positions. This is the first articulated skeleton of a Neanderthal to be discovered in a decade. During the last 10 years the use of DNA in research has developed so much that scientists expect this find to be a rich source of new information.

The bones of Shanidar Z’s left hand      Copyright Graeme Barker

The skeleton was discovered at Shanidar Cave, 500 miles north of Baghdad. It was here in the 1950’s and 1960’s that archaeologists unearthed the partial remains of 10 Neanderthal men, women and children. They found clumps of pollen surrounding one of the skeletons, leading the researchers at that time to suggest that Neanderthals may have conducted elaborate funerals using flowers as part of a solemn ritual. Team leader Ralph Solecki, from Columbia University in New York, claimed it was evidence that Neanderthals were capable of cultural sophistication, challenging the view – prevalent at the time – that our ancestors were unintelligent and animalistic.

The newly-discovered skeleton consists of the upper torso, crushed skull and hands of a middle-aged to older adult. The lower part of the skeleton appears to be missing. The bones of the right hand were clenched but the left hand appeared to be curled under the head like a small cushion.

Diagram showing the burial position of the Neanderthal, a stone behind the head
Copyright Emma Pomeroy

Early analysis suggests the specimen is more than 70,000 years old. While the sex has yet to be determined, the skeleton has relatively worn teeth, suggesting the individual was a “middle- to older-aged adult”.

Before this most recent specimen, the last articulated Neanderthal remains were unearthed in Spain at Sima de las Palomas in 2006-7 and at Cova Forada in 2010 .

The new study was published in the journal Antiquity in 2019.

Text     Alun Harvey


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