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Shanidar Cave

2 September 2023
Anthropology, Archaeology, Evolution

At https://phys.org/news/2023-08-ancient-bee-burrows-neanderthals.html … Ralph Solecki, back in the 1960s, came up with the idea of a ‘flower burial’ – a hypothesis that a Neanderthal skeleton was laid out on a bed of flowers. Either for medical, herbal, reasons, a mark of affection, or as a sign of respect for a dead loved one. This idea led to scientists going on to re-evaluate the Neanderthals. Until that point they were characterised as brutish. If true, the flowers, would signify empathy, and care for another – rather than the image of Neanderthals as primitive savages. Just the sort of revolutionary re-think of many things that occurred in the 1960s.

It was the discovery of pollen in the burial pits that suggested to Solecki the possibility of flower offerings. Now, a new team has been back to the Shanidar Cave in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where both Iran and Turkey converge on what was once known as Kurdistan. Their results are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and the conclusion is that the pollen likely had an origin in bees, rather than the placement of flowers. The pollen is found in clumps, taxomonically mixed, as in a collection of pollen by a bee colony. Wild bees, of course. They were then deposited in the bee nest. In this instance, inside the cave in an area that could be easily dug out to make a hole, or holes, such as floor sediments. The burrows of bees can actually  be seen in areas of the cave less trampled on by earlier investigations. However, this does not detract from Solecki’s review of the Neanderthals. In the years following  the discovery, the view of them has changed considerably – and no doubt this was in part due to Solecki. For instance, they are no longer considered brutish, by  most people, and in other locations have been identified as creating early cave paintings and etchings, carved wooden throwing axes, jewellery fashioned from eagle talons, and beads made from bones, shell and ivory. They also collected conches, arranged animal skulls around fire hearths, used fire making kits, distilled adhesives, and seem to have interacted with modern humans. See https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2023.105822

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