Home / News / A remarkably well-preserved Neanderthal skeleton, the most intact in more than 25 years, has been discovered in a cave known as the “Flower Funeral” cave

A remarkably well-preserved Neanderthal skeleton, the most intact in more than 25 years, has been discovered in a cave known as the “Flower Funeral” cave

A female Neanderthal skeleton, which is the most intact and well-preserved found in recent years, has been utilized to recreate the facial features of its owner. This individual belonged to an extinct human lineage and lived approximately 75,000 years ago. The skeleton is located in the famous Shanidar Cave, known for its controversial history of Neanderthals burying their dead, potentially with flowers. It is showcased in a recently released Netflix documentary called Secrets of the Neanderthals.

Shanidar Cave, initially found in the 1950s in Iraqi Kurdistan, has provided some of the most extraordinary Neanderthal discoveries in the entire archaeological history. These discoveries include the remains of at least 10 distinct individuals. The funerary practices observed in the cave are of great significance, as they have greatly enhanced our understanding of Neanderthal cognition and revolutionized the public’s perception of this ancient species, shifting it from being seen as primitive brutes to being recognized as complex thinkers.

At least five individuals seem to have been buried together in a group behind a large rock, indicating that the location was considered important and was selected as a burial site by multiple generations. During the 1960s, clusters of pollen were found near one of these skeletons, suggesting that Neanderthals might have placed flowers as a tribute to the dead.

Dr. Emma Pomeroy from the University of Cambridge stated that it is evident that Neanderthals are returning to a specific location to intercede with their deceased. “The time difference between these events could span several decades or even thousands of years.” Is this occurrence merely coincidental, or is it deliberately planned, and if so, what is the reason behind their return?

The newly found female individual has been designated as Shanidar Z and was found within the group of buried remains situated behind the large stone structure, with her skull crushed by a rock. Examination of the remaining teeth suggested that she passed away in her forties, implying that she might have been esteemed and honored for her relatively old age.

Following the excavation, scientists meticulously extracted, scanned, and reconstructed the compressed skull to produce a replica of the visage of the ancient woman. According to Pomeroy, this intricate task necessitated great caution due to the bone’s fragility, which was comparable to a biscuit soaked in tea. Its softness posed a challenge in handling it without causing any harm.

According to her, there are notable differences in the appearance of Neanderthal and human skulls. Neanderthal skulls exhibit prominent brow ridges, a lack of chins, and a midface projection that gives rise to more pronounced noses. However, the recreated face implies that the disparities were not as pronounced during their lifetime.

“It’s interesting to observe the process of interbreeding between our species, which has resulted in the presence of Neanderthal DNA in almost everyone alive today,” she explains. Recent research has shed light on the striking similarities between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, showcasing their mastery of fire, culinary skills, and artistic abilities.

When revisiting Shanidar cave, new evidence has emerged challenging the idea of the Neanderthal “flower burial.” It now suggests that the pollen found in the cave may have been brought in by nesting bees. However, the discoveries made at the site reveal a fascinating aspect of ancient hominids: their capacity for empathy and emotional development. In particular, one individual with a disability exhibited evidence of receiving consistent care throughout their lifetime.

“Neanderthals have received negative attention since their initial discovery over 150 years ago,” stated Professor Graeme Barker, who led the excavation. It is evident from our findings that the Shanidar Neanderthals might have contemplated death and its consequences in a manner strikingly similar to our own closest evolutionary relatives.

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