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Shanidar Cave is an archaeological site in the Zagros Mountains
Zagros Mountains
The Zagros Mountains are the largest mountain range in Iran and Iraq. With a total length of 1,500 km , from northwestern Iran, and roughly correlating with Iran's western border, the Zagros range spans the whole length of the western and southwestern Iranian plateau and ends at the Strait of...

 in Erbil Governorate, Kurdistan Region, Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

. The site is located in the valley of the Great Zab
Great Zab
The Great Zab , , , ) is an approximately long river flowing through Turkey and Iraq. It rises in Turkey near Lake Van and joins the Tigris in Iraq south of Mosul. The drainage basin of the Great Zab covers approximately , and during its course, the rivers collects the water from a large number...

. It was excavated from 1957–1961 by Ralph Solecki
Ralph Solecki
Ralph Stefan Solecki is an American archaeologist. He was born in New York City, New York in 1917. He is a former member of the faculty at Columbia University , and his best-known excavations were at the Neanderthal site at Shanidar Cave in Iraq. His publications include early works on aerial...

 and his team from Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 and yielded the first adult Neanderthal
The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

 skeletons in Iraq, dating between 60–80,000 years BP
Before Present
Before Present years is a time scale used in archaeology, geology, and other scientific disciplines to specify when events in the past occurred. Because the "present" time changes, standard practice is to use AD 1950 as the origin of the age scale, reflecting the fact that radiocarbon...

The excavated area produced nine skeletons of Neanderthals of varying ages and states of preservation and completeness (labelled Shanidar I – IX). The tenth individual was recently discovered by M. Zeder during examination of a faunal assemblage from the site at the Smithsonian Institution. The remains seemed to Zeder to suggest that Neandertals had funeral ceremonies
A funeral is a ceremony for celebrating, sanctifying, or remembering the life of a person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from interment itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor...

, burying their dead
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.-History:...

 with flowers (although the flowers are now thought to be a modern contaminant), and that they took care of injured individuals. One skeleton and casts of the others at the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 are all that is left of the findings, the originals having been dispersed in Iraq.

Shanidar 1

The Shanidar Cave site is most famous for having two skeletons, I and IV. Shanidar I was an elderly Neanderthal male known as Shanidar I, or ‘Nandy’ to its excavators. He was aged between 40 and 50 years, which was considerably old for a Neanderthal, equivalent to 80 years old today, and displaying severe signs of deformity. He was one of four reasonably complete skeletons from the cave which displayed trauma
Physical trauma
Trauma refers to "a body wound or shock produced by sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident." It can also be described as "a physical wound or injury, such as a fracture or blow." Major trauma can result in secondary complications such as circulatory shock, respiratory failure and death...

-related abnormalities, which in his case would have been debilitating to the point of making day-to-day life painful. 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 Nandy 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
Amputation is the removal of a body extremity by trauma, prolonged constriction, or surgery. As a surgical measure, it is used to control pain or a disease process in the affected limb, such as malignancy or gangrene. In some cases, it is carried out on individuals as a preventative surgery for...

 later in his life. The arm had healed but the injury may have caused some paralysis
Paralysis is loss of muscle function for one or more muscles. Paralysis can be accompanied by a loss of feeling in the affected area if there is sensory damage as well as motor. A study conducted by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, suggests that about 1 in 50 people have been diagnosed...

 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. 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 I is not the only Neanderthal at this site, or in the entire archaeological record
Archaeological record
The archaeological record is the body of physical evidence about the past. It is one of the most basic concepts in archaeology, the academic discipline concerned with documenting and interpreting the archaeological record....

 which displays both trauma and healing.

Shanidar 2

Shanidar II was an adult male, who evidently died in a rock fall inside the cave, as his skull and bones were crushed. There is evidence that Shanidar II 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.

Shanidar 3

Shanidar III, another adult male, was buried in the same grave as Shanidar I and II. Shanidar III also suffered from a degenerative joint disorder
Osteoarthritis also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease, is a group of mechanical abnormalities involving degradation of joints, including articular cartilage and subchondral bone. Symptoms may include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, locking, and sometimes an effusion...

 (DJD) in his foot, which would have resulted in painful, limited movement. He also shows signs of arthritis. Research in 2009 suggests that Shanidar III may have been killed by a modern human (Homo sapiens sapiens), which led researchers to believe that there could have been inter-species aggression between the two groups.

Shanidar 4, the "flower burial"

Of all the skeletons found at the cave, it is Shanidar IV which provides the best evidence for Neanderthal burial ritual. The skeleton of an adult male aged from 30–45 years was discovered in 1960 by Ralph Solecki and was positioned so that he was lying on his left side in a partial fetal position
Fetal position
Fetal position is a medical term used to describe the positioning of the body of a prenatal fetus as it develops...

. Routine soil samples which were gathered for pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

 analysis in an attempt to reconstruct the palaeoclimate and vegetational history of the site from around the body 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 and suggested that entire flowering plant
Flowering plant
The flowering plants , also known as Angiospermae or Magnoliophyta, are the most diverse group of land plants. Angiosperms are seed-producing plants like the gymnosperms and can be distinguished from the gymnosperms by a series of synapomorphies...

s (or at least heads of plants) had entered the grave deposit. Furthermore, a study of the particular flower types suggested that the flowers may have been chosen for their specific medicinal properties. Yarrow
Achillea millefolium or yarrow is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, native to the Northern Hemisphere. In New Mexico and southern Colorado, it is called plumajillo, or "little feather", for the shape of the leaves. In antiquity, yarrow was known as herbal militaris, for its use in...

, Cornflower
Centaurea cyanus is a small annual flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, native to Europe. "Cornflower" is also erroneously used for chicory, and more correctly for a few other Centaurea species; to distinguish C...

, Bachelor's Button, St. Barnaby's Thistle, Ragwort
Ragwort is a very common wild flower in the family Asteraceae that is native to northern Eurasia, usually in dry, open places, and has also been widely distributed as a weed elsewhere....

 or Groundsel
Senecio vulgaris, often known by the common name Common groundsel, a humble in appearance member of the Asteraceae family and Senecio genus, is a tenacious deciduous annual whose presence now encompasses the globe in a wide area of easy to somewhat difficult growing conditions.The discussion of...

, Grape Hyacinth
Grape hyacinth
Muscari is a genus of perennial bulbous plants native to Eurasia that produce spikes of dense, most commonly blue, urn-shaped flowers resembling bunches of grapes in the spring. The common name for the genus is Grape Hyacinth . Another common name is Baby's Breath...

, Joint Pine or Woody Horsetail and Hollyhock
Alcea , commonly known as hollyhocks, is a genus of about 60 species of flowering plants in the mallow family Malvaceae. Most species are native to southwest and central Asia, although a few are native to southeast Europe or Egypt...

 were represented in the pollen samples, all of which have long-known curative powers as diuretic
A diuretic provides a means of forced diuresis which elevates the rate of urination. There are several categories of diuretics. All diuretics increase the excretion of water from bodies, although each class does so in a distinct way.- Medical uses :...

s, stimulant
Stimulants are psychoactive drugs which induce temporary improvements in either mental or physical function or both. Examples of these kinds of effects may include enhanced alertness, wakefulness, and locomotion, among others...

s, astringent
An astringent substance is a chemical compound that tends to shrink or constrict body tissues, usually locally after topical medicinal application. The word "astringent" derives from Latin adstringere, meaning "to bind fast"...

s as well as anti-inflammatory
Anti-inflammatory refers to the property of a substance or treatment that reduces inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs make up about half of analgesics, remedying pain by reducing inflammation as opposed to opioids, which affect the central nervous system....

 properties. This led to the idea that the man could possibly have had shamanic power
Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. To quote Eliade: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy." Shamanism encompasses the...

s, perhaps acting as medicine man
Medicine man
"Medicine man" or "Medicine woman" are English terms used to describe traditional healers and spiritual leaders among Native American and other indigenous or aboriginal peoples...

 to the Shanidar Neandertals.
Recent work into the flower burial 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
Persian Jird
The Persian jird is a species of rodent in the family Muridae found in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan....

 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 IV burial had natural, not cultural, origins.

See also

  • List of fossil sites
  • List of hominina (hominid) fossils
  • Paleopathology
    Paleopathology, also spelled palaeopathology, is the study of ancient diseases. It is useful in understanding the past history of diseases, and uses this understanding to predict its course in the future.- History of paleopathology :...

Further reading

  • T. D. Stewart, The Neanderthal Skeletal Remains from Shanidar Cave, Iraq: A Summary of Findings to Date, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 121, no. 2, pp. 121-165, 1977
  • Erik Trinkaus, The Shanidar Neanderthals, Academic Press, 1983, ISBN 10 0127005501
  • Erik Trinkaus and M. R. Zimmerman, Trauma among the Shanidar Neandertals, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, vol. 57, iss. 1, pp. 61–76, 1982
  • Agelarakis A., "Proto Neolithic Human Skeletal Remains in the Zawi-Chemi Layer in Shanidar Cave". Sumer XL:1-2 (1987-88): 7-16.
  • Agelarakis A., "The Palaeopathological Evidence, Indicators of Stress of the Shanidar Proto-Neolithic and the Ganj-Dareh Tepe Early Neolithic Human Skeletal Collections". Columbia University, 1989, Doctoral Dissertation, UMI, Bell & Howell Information Company, Michigan 48106.
  • Agelarakis A., "The Shanidar Cave Proto-Neolithic Human Population: Aspects of Demography and Paleopathology". Human Evolution 8:4 (1993): 235-253.
  • Agelarakis A., - Y. Serpanos "Inner Ear Palaeopathological Manifestations, Causative Agents, and Implications Αffecting the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens Population of Shanidar Cave, Iraq”. Human Evolution 17 (2002).

External links