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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Neanderthal killed by humans?

Was Shanidar 3 deadly injured by a projectile thrown from afar? Was this projectile the creation of Homo sapiens?

This is the fascinating criminological question that has been asked by Steven Churchill and colleagues (abstract) and that I have come to known by Mundo Neandertal (in Spanish, with interesting discussion in the comments section) and Science Daily.

Shanidar 3 is a Neanderthal male specimen from Iraqi Kurdistan, who died at the age of 40-50 after he suffered a puncturing wound in his chest, wound that was not immediately lethal (the injury had began to heal) but that surely caused his death in a matter of days or weeks. He is dated very loosely to 75-50,000 years ago.

Shanidar cave

According to the experiments realized by Churchill's team, the injury must have been caused by an object that hit in a descending 45 degrees angle, with low energy and momentum. This is inconsistent with a close fight injury, such as one caused by a knife or a spear at short range, instead it seems caused by a projectile thrown from a distance.

The injured rib

So far it seems convincing.

Was this caused by a modern human, a Homo sapiens individual, or was just domestic violence among Neanderthals? This is not so clear but there are indications that point in that direction: it has been argued that modern humans in Gravettian Europe had femur deformities consistent with a life of hurling spears or other weapons and, importantly, that Neanderthals did not show such traits.

Churchill showing the possible murderous weapons: a Neanderthal wooden spear and an atlatl used by modern humans (though not documented until later times)

Also if Shanidar 3 lived in the latest dates of the estimated range, c. 50,000 year ago, that would be coincident with the probable dates of human migration from South Asia into the west, migration that would have got them into Neanderthal territory unavoidably, with possible clashes like the one suspected here.

And that is it. We cannot really reach to further solid conclusions on light of the available evidence. The suspicion stands anyhow: granpa did it. Did he?

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