Shanidar Cave is an archeological site in Iraqi Kurdistan, not far from the capital, Erbil. Shanidar is famous for its Neanderthal remains — ten separate skeletons that may date back over 50,000 years.
Discovery of Neanderthal Remains
The Shanidar Neanderthal remains were first discovered in the mid-1950’s by a team from Columbia University. The first nine skeletons were excavated between 1957 and 1961. The tenth skeleton was discovered in 2006 when an archeologist discovered several bones from the collection that did not match the others.
The Shanidar Cave was not the first location of Neanderthal skeleton discovery, but it was the first that shed light on the burial practices and causes of death among Neanderthals.
The most interesting of all the skeletons, referred to as Shanidar 1, was carefully excavated and diligently studied because of the damage to his skull and deformities on his leg and arm. It was discovered that the Neanderthal was between the ages 40-50 at the time of his death. The damage to his skull, leg and arm were discovered to have partially healed and were concluded to not have played a role in Shanidar 1’s death.
Archeologists believe that Shanidar 1 was taken care of by the other Neanderthals in his social group. It would have been very difficult for him to live long enough for his injuries to partially heal without help from others. At the time, this was a significant discovery, as it lessened the strongly-held belief that Neanderthals were solitary in nature.
The Shanidar Cave is not only home to Neanderthal skeletons, but also to over 30 other “proto-Neolithic” skeletons that have been dated to roughly 10,000 years BC.
One of these skeletons, Shanidar 3, is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Shanidar 3 traveled over 6,000 miles from Iraqi Kurdistan to Washington D.C.
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