Shanidar Caves: Ancient Neanderthal Burials Of Iraq

Burials are a significant part of human cultures from prehistoric times. They were even associated with the Homo sapiens Neanderthals.  Neanderthals were our nearest extinct ancestors and Homo sapiens subspecies. Until 40,000 years BP (Before Present), they habituated in the Eurasia region. Shanidar cave is one of the most prominent examples of Neanderthal burials. Nine Neanderthal skeletons were discovered by a Columbia University team lead by Ralph Solecki (1957-1961).

Shanidar Caves, Credits: Hardscarf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shanidar prehistoric cave site is located in Bradost Mountain on the Zagros Mountains of Kurdistan of Iraq. At Shanidar, archaeological fossil evidence of humans was found in 1953 and 1960 in various bunches. The most recent material remains of 3 adult males are found in the excavations. Earlier fossil remains comprised 1 younger and 1 older man, 2 mature women, and 2 infants. These fossils show affinities with typical European Neanderthals characteristics. Earlier, only Europe was considered as the region of Neanderthals but Shanidar caves had extended the range of Neanderthals up to Southwest Asia. The dating of all of these fossils ranges from 65,000–35,000 BP. Here, Neanderthals were associated with the Mousterian stone tools.

Neanderthal remains, Iraq Museum, Credits: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The “Shanidar 4” is famous for its ‘flower burial’ of Neanderthals (80,000–60,000 Before Present). Its skeleton was revealed by Solecki in 1960. The presence of flowers in the grave was confirmed by scientific pollen analysis. Entire pollen clumps were exposed by Arlette Leroi-Gourhan in the grave. Before its discovery, Cro-Magnons were considered as the earliest human ancestors who made purposeful, ceremonial burials.

Neanderthal Skull, Credits: James Gordon from Los Angeles, California, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Recently in 2020, scholars found the new 70,000 years old Neanderthal remains at Shanidar.

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