The human ancestor – which died out 40,000 years ago – is thought to be a lot smarter than the world first thought. Archaeologists have unearthed a 70,000-year-old Neanderthal skeleton north of Baghdad, Iraq that they hope will prove that they were sophisticated to perform death rituals.
The remains consisted of a crushed but complete skull, a rib cage and both hands.
The skeleton was found inside the Shanidar Cave site.
Experts are yet to determine the skeleton’s gender but early analysis dictates that the Neanderthal has the teeth of a “middle-to-older-aged adult”.
The skeleton has been named Shanidar Z.
The prized cave has been the home of ten other Neanderthal people which were found around 60 years ago.
One of the skeletons, unusually, was found engulfed in ancient pollen.
Scientists now believe that the presence of pollen is evidence that the species not only buried the dead but buried them with flowers.
The pollen challenges the belief that Neanderthals were dumb and animalistic.
The cave has since been known as the “flower burial” site.
Professor of cultural paleoecology at Liverpool John Moores University Chris Hunt described the new remains as “a truly spectacular find”.
He said: “The upper remains are staggeringly complete, although the skull was flattened by compression under many tons of cave sediment.
“The body was placed in a depression on the cave floor in a semi-reclining position, with a big stone lying behind the head.”
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Four of the skeletons were found in unique positions which experts think may signify that the Neanderthals returned to the same spot to lay their dead.
Prof Hunt added: “We have four bodies within an area the size of a small dinner table and chairs.
“If we were dealing with modern people, this might merit the use of the word ‘graveyard’, but this is a step too far for our understanding of Neanderthal behaviour.”
Professor Graeme Barker, from Cambridge University, said: “The new excavation suggests that some of these bodies were laid in a channel in the cave floor created by water, which had then been intentionally dug to make it deeper.
“There is strong early evidence that Shanidar Z was deliberately buried.”
The archaeology team has decided to analyse sediment samples from the new skeleton, along with the traces of pollen and charcoal on the site.
The analysis will help the scientists find out more about the lives of the Neanderthals.
Dr Emma Pomeroy, from Cambridge University and lead author on the study, said: “In recent years we have seen increasing evidence that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than previously thought, from cave markings to use of decorative shells and raptor talons.
“If Neanderthals were using Shanidar cave as a site of memory for the repeated ritual interment of their dead, it would suggest cultural complexity of a high order.”
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