From 50 thousand years ago, Shanidar 1 is one of the most complete Neanderthal skeletons known, from the famous Shanidar site in Iraqi Kurdistan. He stood about 5’8” tall, on the tall side for a Neanderthal. He died around 40 years old.

creb shanidar 1

The poor guy was also a mess. His right arm had been useless for a while before he died, and he may have been missing his right forearm entirely. His right foot was injured and arthritic, and he must have walked with a limp. He had also suffered a crushing blow to the left side of his head, which healed, but probably left him blind in that eye. And he had a bad scalp wound on his right. Not a pretty picture, but it tells us something interesting about Neanderthal social life: somebody cared enough about this guy to keep him alive, although he was probably too disabled to contribute much as a hunter.

Jean Auel used Shanidar 1 as a model for Creb, a crippled Neanderthal shaman, in her Earth’s Children series (Clan of the Cave Bear, etc.).

Shanidar 3, another skeleton, not quite contemporary with Shanidar 1, tells us about another side of Neanderthal life. He’s got a deep gash in one of his ribs, almost certainly inflicted by a knife or spear point. The wound had begun to heal, so he probably died a few weeks after being injured. An interesting interpretation of this wound comes from Steven Churchill (gated, sorry). In experiments with reconstructed weapons and pig carcasses, he found that the closest approximation to Shanidar 3’s injury came from a spear cast by a spear thrower. Neanderthals are not known to have used spear throwers, so it’s possible that Shanidar 3 fell victim to Homo sapiens moving into the area.


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