Shanidar, (2021), Digital collage using found photographs. (The background image is Shanidar cave where the remains were found.)

It’s always been assumed that Neanderthals were brutish, dumb and uncultured, but recent discoveries have cast serious doubt on that. What is known, is that they existed for 300,000 years and throughout that time remained a nomadic species of expert hunters and survivalists. Family cohorts would meet annually at specific sites to swap females and broaden the gene pool. Perhaps evidence of a rudimentary understanding that incest wouldn’t do anybody any favours. It is estimated that only around 100,000 Neanderthals inhabited continental Europe, before they dissolved into the Homo Sapien population through interbreeding some 12,000 years ago.

Their physiology was such that they most likely could make vocal sounds; Surprisingly much more highly pitched than you would imagine. It’s thought that if a spoken language didn’t develop, music dance and art are the most likely forms of communication they could have employed, to gain trust and strengthen tribal bonds. Although not much Neanderthal “stuff” has survived.

Ralph Solceki threw a Mammoth sized spanner into the works of accepted paleo-anthropology when in 1960, he and his team came across “Shanidar 4” the well preserved remains of one of our palaeolithic ancestors in a cave, in Iraqi Kurdistan, which seemed to have been purposefully buried.

Fast forward to 2018 and the first fully articulated Neanderthal remains to be found for two decades were discovered in the same cave, known as “Shanidar D”. As it turned out, very close to where the other had been interred.

Microscopic examination of sedimentary deposits surrounding both bodies (carried out in the 60s and recently) showed a very high proportion of pollen grains. Strongly suggesting that the graves were intentional, (what we’d call now “formal burials”), and that rather than backfilling them with the excavated spoil, they were instead filled with large amounts of freshly cut aromatic flowers, wild sage and mint.

Doesn’t sound that uncivilised to me.

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