Shanidar cave is located in northern Iraq at an altitude of 745 m. Nearby is the village of Zawi Chemi Shanidar, with archaeological remains dating back to ca. 10,000 BC). However, Shanidar is known for its middle-Paleolithic remains, which include several Neandertal skeletons between 60,000 and 46,000 years old.
The cave was first discovered by Ralf S. Solecki and T. Dale Stewart and was excavated from 1953 to 1960. During the first excavation, a complete skeleton of a nine-month-old child was found (Shanidar 9). It was difficult to know that he was a Neandertal because the bones were severely deformed. Later this individual would be studied by Muzzafir Senyurek from the Smithsonian Institution. This was the first of a total of nine individuals (two infants and seven adults) to be found during the excavations.
Shanidar 1 was about 40 years old when he died. He is a male who suffered a number of pathologies prior to his death; his right arm and leg were withered, and he had healed injuries to his right foot and left eye. Probably without the care of the group, this man would have died.
Shanidar 2 and 3 were found in 1957. They are respectively a Neandertal cranium and an almost complete skeleton of an adult male with a marked lumbar bilateral arthroses.
The Shanidar 4 skeleton was found surrounded by flowers considered to be of medical interest, which some researchers think were placed there intentionally. The palynological analyses showed that all the taxa represented had therapeutic properties.
Together with Shanidar 1, 3, and 4, Shanidar 5 shows signs of injuries ante mortem. Specifically, this adult had a wound over his left frontal. This individual was found in 1960 along with parts of Shanidar 4, 6, 8, and 9. Shanidar 6 and 7 were found beside Shanidar 4, and finally, Shanidar 8 was a little child.
The study of these Neandertal remains, together with those from other locations, shows that although it is common to find a high number of injuries, there was a strong feeling of cohesion between group members, which permitted the survival of the weak individuals.
- Leroi-Gourhan, A. (1975). The flowers found with Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal burial in Iraq. Science, 190, 562-564.
- Trinkaus, E. (Ed.). (1983). The Shanidar neanderthals. New York: Academic Press.
- Trinkaus, E. (1991). The fossil human remains from Shanidar Cave, Iraq: Evolution and continuity among near-east late archaic humans.