Implied Social Dynamics

Most researchers today believe that Neanderthals deliberately and intentionally buried their dead, which suggests compassion for members of their clan, though Gargett (1989, 1996, 1999) has argued against intentional burials, based on spatial taphonomic studies (see also Noble & Davidson, 1996). The most famous case to date for an intentional Neanderthal burial is from Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq. Between 1953 and 1960, Ralph Solecki excavated the Shanidar deposits and recovered the remains of nine Neanderthal individuals, among which one group dated to around 60,000 years ago and another group to between 70,000 and 80,000 years ago (Trinkaus, 1983; Tattersall & Schwartz, 2000). Some individuals found in the upper level of the excavations appear to have been killed by a collapse of the cave roof (Shanidar 1,3, and 5), for they were excavated immediately below rockfall debris (Trinkaus, 1983). Others, however, appear to have been intentionally buried, the most famous being Shanidar 4, found in the lower levels of the excavation. This individual was lying on his left side, with the right arm across the body and the legs partially flexed. In addition to this, pollen was said to be found in association with the burial. Shanidar 4 soon became famous as representing a "flower burial," or, if we are to agree with the title of Solecki's well-known book, they represent The First Flower People (1971). Recently, however, it has been suggested that the flower pollen may have been inadvertently introduced to the site by workmen while excavating Shanidar in the 1950s!

Evidence of recognized kinship and perhaps a concept of loss is suggested by an examination of the "old man," Shanidar 1. This individual, as excavated, was lying on his back, turned slightly onto his right side, with his arms across his chest and his legs fully extended. While he appears to have died as a result of trauma associated with the roof fall, the arrangement of Shanidar 1's body suggests that after the disaster, the body was deliberately covered with layers of small pieces of limestone, by members of his social group in an attempt to bury him (Trinkaus, 1983). The major significance of Shanidar, however, is his long-term physical condition before death. Prior to death he had sustained numerous injuries to his right frontal and left orbit (which suggests he was probably blind in his left eye at least), and had suffered from a massive injury to his right side that resulted in arthritic degenerations of the right knee and ankle as well as extreme withering of the right clavicle, scapula, and humerus, with fractures and a possible amputation of the distal humerus (Trinkaus, 1983). These injuries occurred long before the roof fall because substantial bone healing had occurred, proving that the injuries were not recent and thus not a result of the collapse of the cave roof that killed him. The implication is that this individual must have been cared for by his group in order to have survived to a ripe old age (remembering he would have survived even longer if he had not been killed by the roof fall). This need not be particularly surprising, for something similar had happened even as far back as H. ergaster, as indicated by the pathological condition of KNM-ER 1808, who had obviously been cared for by individuals from her group for a considerable period of time.

Neanderthal burials are not restricted to western Asia. In Europe, the La Chapelle-aux-Saints individual had been buried in a rectangular pit at the base of the Mousterian deposits. A similar burial pit occurs at Le Moustier, containing the remains of a Neanderthal teenager. At Regourdou, also in France, a Neanderthal was excavated from a burial pit that was lined with a bed of stones and covered over with a cairn containing a mixture of animal bones and artifacts, though these artifacts may merely be part of the backfill. Burials have also been found at La Ferrassie in France (Figure 8.6). Even more interesting is that these burials appear to represent the world's first cemetery. In all, seven Neanderthals were buried, almost all of whom were oriented in an east-west direction, the only exception being an infant burial in a north-south orientation at the back of the cave wall. There were two adults, the rest being children, and the age and sex distribution is suggestive of a "family plot" (Mellars, 1996; see also Stringer & Gamble, 1993; Jordan, 1999). Whether material culture and faunal remains associated with such burials can be considered grave goods is still unresolved. As suggested by Chase and Dibble (1987), most of the "deliberate grave goods" can probably be attributed to an inadvertent incorporation into the grave at the time of burial, which would have been dug through Mousterian layers, and the artifacts might have been incorporated into the grave as part of the backfilling operation.

Wall of rock shelter

Male adult burial

Probable infant burial

Wall of rock shelter

Infant burial

Infant burial and three tools

Female adult burial

Male adult burial

Probable infant burial

Infant burial under block

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