The discovery of a 70,000-year-old skeleton has provided fresh evidence Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funeral rites with flowers.
Scientists found the well-preserved Neanderthal remains in the Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq on Tuesday.
Neanderthals are the extinct cousins of humans.
The sex of the skeleton, named Shanidar Z, was undetermined but it has the teeth of a “middle to older aged adult”.
The remains also include a crushed but complete skull, the upper chest and both hands.
The skeleton was found to be reclining on his or her back, with the left arm tucked under the head and the right arm bent and sticking out to the side.
Researchers hope that DNA can be extracted from Shanidar Z’s teeth or bones.
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Image: The remains include a crushed but complete skull, the upper chest and both hands
The Shanidar Cave is famous for containing Neanderthal fossils and was a pivotal site for mid-20th century archaeology.
Remains of 10 other neanderthals, seven adults and three infants, were dug up there six decades ago.
The find offered an insight in the physical characteristics, behaviour and diet of the species.
Clusters of flower pollen were found at that time in soil samples associated with one of the skeletons.
The discovery prompted two researchers, the late American archaeologist Ralph Solecki and French pollen specialist Arlette Leroi-Gourhan, to propose that Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funerary rites with flowers.
Critics however cast doubt on the theory, arguing that the pollen could have been modern contamination from the feet and clothes of people working and living in the cave.
The pollen could also have come from burrowing rodents or insects.
But the bones of Shanidar Z were found in sediment containing ancient pollen and other mineralised plant remains, reviving the possibility of flower burials.
The material is being examined to determine its age and the plants represented.
Image: An images shows part of the spinal column of Shanidar Z
The newly discovered body also appears to have been deliberately placed in an intentionally dug depression cut into the subsoil and part of a cluster of four individuals.
Emma Pomeroy, an osteologist and paleoanthropologist at the University of Cambridge, is the lead author of the research published the Antiquity journal.
She said: “So from initially being a skeptic based on many of the other published critiques of the flower-burial evidence, I am coming round to think this scenario is much more plausible and I am excited to see the full results of our new analyses.”
Ms Pomeroy added: “What is key here is the intentionality behind the burial. You might bury a body for purely practical reasons, in order to avoid attracting dangerous scavengers and/or to reduce the smell.
“But when this goes beyond practical elements it is important because that indicates more complex, symbolic and abstract thinking, compassion and care for the dead, and perhaps feelings of mourning and loss.”
Scholars have argued for years about whether Neanderthals buried their dead with rituals like humans.
Image: The Shanidar Cave is in northern Iraq
Graeme Barker, University of Cambridge archaeologist and study co-author, said: “Whether the Neanderthal group of dead placed around 70,000 years ago in the cave were a few years, a few decades or centuries – or even millennia – apart, it seems clear that Shanidar was a special place, with bodies being placed just in one part of a large cave. They were in a kind of natural niche formed by rock fall.”
He added: “There is strong early evidence that Shanidar Z was deliberately buried.”
Source : Sky News