Shandar Cave

Shanidar Cave

ئەشکەوتی شانەدەر

Erbil governorate shanidar cave.jpg

The entrance to Shanidar Cave in Iraq

Shanidar Cave is located in Iraq

Shanidar Cave

Shown within Iraq

Location Erbil Governorate  Iraqi Kurdistan
Region Zagros Mountains
Coordinates°N 44.2433°ECoordinates°N 44.2433°E

Shanidar Cave (KurdishŞaneder or Zewî Çemî ŞanederArabic: كَهَف شانِدَر‎‎) is an archaeological site located on Bradost Mountain in Iraq.[1] The remains of ten Neanderthals, dating from 35,000 to 65,000 years ago, have been found within the cave.[1] The cave also contains two later “proto-Neolithic” cemeteries, one of which dates back about 10,600 years and contains 35 individuals.[2]

The best known of the Neanderthals is Shanidar 1, who survived several injuries during his life, possibly due to care from other members of his band, and Shanidar 4, whose body lay beside a flower that can either be explained as evidence of burial rituals or animal contamination.

The site is located within the Zagros Mountains in the Arbil governorate and lies close to the Great Zab river valley.



Neanderthal remains[edit]

The ten Neanderthals at the site were found within a Mousterian layer which also contained hundreds of stone tools including pointsside-scrapers, and flakes and bones from animals including wild goats and spur-thighed tortoises.[3]:9–14

The first nine (Shanidar 1-9) were unearthed between 1957 and 1961 by Ralph Solecki and a team from Columbia University.[3]:16 The skeleton of Shanidar 3 is held at the Smithsonian Institution. The others (Shanidar 1, 2, and 4-8) were kept in Iraq and may have been lost during the 2003 invasion, although casts remain at the Smithsonian.[4] In 2006, while sorting a collection of faunal bones from the site at the Smithsonian, Melinda Zeder discovered leg and foot bones from a tenth Neanderthal, now known as Shanidar 10.[5]

Shanidar 1[edit]

Shanidar 1 was an elderly Neanderthal male known as ‘Nandy’ to his excavators. He was aged between 40 and 50 years, remarkably old for a Neanderthal—equivalent to 80 years old today[citation needed]—and displayed severe signs of deformity. He was one of four reasonably complete skeletons from the cave which displayed trauma-related abnormalities, which in his case would have been debilitating to the point of making day-to-day life painful.[6]

At some point in his life he had suffered a violent blow to the left side of his face, creating a crushing fracture to his left orbit which would have left him partially or totally blind in one eye. He also suffered from a withered right arm which had been fractured in several places and healed, but which caused the loss of his lower arm and hand. This is thought to be either congenital, a result of childhood disease and trauma or due to an amputation later in his life. The arm had healed but the injury may have caused some paralysis down his right side, leading to deformities in his lower legs and foot and would have resulted in him walking with a pronounced, painful limp.[6]

All these injuries were acquired long before death, showing extensive healing and this has been used to infer that Neanderthals looked after their sick and aged, denoting implicit group concern. Shanidar 1 is not the only Neanderthal at this site, or in the entire archaeological record which displays both trauma and healing.[6]

Shanidar 2[edit]

Shanidar 2 was an adult male, who evidently died in a rock fall inside the cave, as his skull and bones were crushed.[7] There is evidence that Shanidar 2 was given a ritual send-off: a small pile of stones with some worked stone points (made out of chert) were found on top of his grave. Also, there had been a large fire by the burial site.[8]

Shanidar 3[edit]

Shanidar 3 was a 40- to 50-year-old male, found in the same grave as Shanidar 1 and 2.[9] A wound to the left 9th rib suggests that the individual died of complications from a stab wound by a sharp implement. Bone growth around the wound indicates that Shanidar 3 lived for at least several weeks after the injury with the object still embedded. The angle of the wound rules out self-infliction, but is consistent with an accidental or purposeful stabbing by another individual.[10] Recent research has suggested that the injury may have been caused by a long range projectile.[11] This would be the earliest example of inter-personal or inter-specific violence in the human fossil record and the only such example amongst Neanderthals.[10] The presence of early-modern humans, possibly armed with projectile weapons, in western Asia around the same time also raises the possibility of inter-species conflict.[11] Shanidar 3 also suffered from a degenerative joint disorder (DJD) in his foot resulting from a fracture or sprain, which would have resulted in painful, limited movement.[10] The skeleton is on display at the Hall of Human Origins at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. [9]

Shanidar 4, the “flower burial”[edit]

The skeleton of Shanidar 4, an adult male aged 30–45 years, was discovered by Solecki in 1960 positioned on his left side in a partial fetal position.

For many years, Shanidar 4 was thought to provide strong evidence for a Neanderthal burial ritual. Routine soil samples from around the body, gathered for pollen analysis in an attempt to reconstruct the palaeoclimate and vegetational history of the site, were analysed eight years after its discovery. In two of the soil samples in particular, whole clumps of pollen were discovered in addition to the usual pollen found throughout the site, suggesting that entire flowering plants (or at least heads of plants) had entered the grave deposit.[12] Furthermore, a study of the particular flower types suggested that the flowers may have been chosen for their specific medicinal properties. YarrowCornflowerBachelor’s ButtonSt. Barnaby’s ThistleRagwort or GroundselGrape Hyacinth, Joint Pine or Woody Horsetail and Hollyhock were represented in the pollen samples, all of which have long-known curative powers as diureticsstimulantsastringents as well as anti-inflammatory properties.[13] This led to the idea that the man could possibly have had shamanic powers, perhaps acting as medicine man to the Shanidar Neandertals.[14][15]

However, recent work has suggested that perhaps the pollen was introduced to the burial by animal action, as several burrows of a gerbil-like rodent known as the Persian jird were found nearby. The jird is known to store large numbers of seeds and flowers at certain points in their burrows and this argument was used in conjunction with the lack of ritual treatment of the rest of the skeletons in the cave to suggest that the Shanidar 4 burial had natural, not cultural, origins.[16] Paul B. Pettitt has stated that the “deliberate placement of flowers has now been convincingly eliminated”, noting that “A recent examination of the microfauna from the strata into which the grave was cut suggests that the pollen was deposited by the burrowing rodent Meriones persicus, which is common in the Shanidar microfauna and whose burrowing activity can be observed today”.[17]

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