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Department of Archaeology



The importance of Shanidar Cave

Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan has been a world-famous, iconic site in Palaeolithic archaeology ever since the discovery of the remains of ten Neanderthal men, women and children by Ralph Solecki’s 1951-1960 excavations.





The extensive disabilities of Shanidar 1 (‘Ned’ in the 2018 BBC documentary Meet Your Ancestors and who provided inspiration for Jean Auel in her book, Clan of the Cave Bear), the projectile injury suffered by Shanidar 3, and the pollen associated with the skeleton of Shanidar 4 that Solecki and Arlette Leroi-Gourhan controversially interpreted as evidence of flowers being placed in a grave (the ‘Flower Burial’), have kept Shanidar Cave central to debates about Neanderthal behaviour and cognitive abilities.


Another big question is when, how and why Neanderthals stopped using the cave and our own species Homo sapiens (‘modern humans’) started using it, part of the much wider debates about when how and why Neanderthals disappear everywhere around 40,000 years ago.



(Left) The eastern part of the Solecki trench during the 1960 excavation, showing T. Dale Stewart at work on Shanidar 4 (the ‘Flower Burial’) and the findspots of Shanidar 1, 3 and 5. (Reused with kind permission of Ralph Solecki) (Right) Solecki’s schematic cross-section of the stratigraphic sequence revealed by his 14 m-deep trench in Shanidar Cave. The 2015-2019 excavations have exposed c.10 m of this sequence, approximately down to the level marked as ‘stalagmitic crust’

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