ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Archeologists said on Friday that they have found the fossilized remains of two more Neanderthal adults in the Kurdistan Region's famed Shanidar Cave, adding to several others unearthed since the 1950s.
Five years ago, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) signed an agreement with Cambridge University to bring a group of archeologists to search for and excavate bones of Neanderthals found on site, located on Bradost Mountain in Erbil’s Barzan area. In the past, archeologists have found parts of 10 Neanderthal skeletons at Shanidar, bringing the new total to 12.
Neanderthals are an extinct species of hominids, the family of great apes that includes modern humans.
“What we have here is the skull of a Neanderthal adult,” Dr. Emma Pomeroy, a British paleoanthropologist who works on field excavations in the cave, told Kurdistan 24.
“It's been quite badly squashed by the stones and all the soil on top of it, but it's actually fairly complete. We can see the lower jaw, the upper jaw, we can see with the teeth, and we can see the eye sockets. So, hopefully, when we've finished excavating - removing all the bones, we may be able to reconstruct it.”
“It seems to be the first of two individuals that we have in this area," she continued. "So we've got one individual higher up and another one underneath, and it looks like a rock has been intentionally put on top of the burials as well."
Pomeroy mentioned that one of the questions that they have is whether the Neanderthals were buried at the same time or whether they returned to the site to bury their dead.
She noted that this is something the team is approaching from multiple angles, using a full range of techniques and specialists from several institutions in the UK and further afield.
“All in all, we're about 12 individuals and all with different specialties. Some specialize in soil ... me, I specialize in the Neanderthal bones. Others specialize in studying the environment or the tools that they used, the kind of animals that we find here that they might have eaten,” she continued.
“So we hope to build a strong picture of how they lived here, what their life was like, and what they did when members of their group died.
Previously, archeologists found the remains of ten Neanderthals inside the cave, dating from 35,000 to 65,000 years ago.
Some sixty years ago, American archeologist Ralph Solecki first discovered the remains of nine Neanderthals in Shanidar Cave, where he, along with his team, conducted excavations between 1951 and 1960.
“Shanidar Cave is one of the most important places for archaeology on the planet,” said Chris Hunt, another archeologist currently working on the excavation.
“Many of the bones [of the previous Neanderthals found] are very broken, but when he [Solecki] did his work, there was very little archaeological science,” he stated.
"We are delighted because we have some new skeletal evidence, and particularly, a new skull.”
“So it’s very very exciting," he continued. "There are many kinds of scientific analysis that will need to be done on this. But before we can do that, we have to, very carefully, lift it out the cave.”
Hunt believes this is an enormous treasure for Kurdistan and for archaeology.
“It is a treasure of knowledge. There is no gold, there are no rubies, but there is knowledge... and it is priceless."
Editing by John J. Catherine
(Additional reporting by Tayfur Mohammed)