Monday, May 27, 2024

Scientists Reveal What 75,000-year-old Neanderthal May Have Looked Like

A Neanderthal woman in her 40s was buried in a cave 75,000 years ago. A rock had been placed behind her head, mimicking a pillow, and one of her hands was also curled beneath her head.

Nicknamed ‘Shanidar Z’, after the Iraqi Kurdistan cave where she was found in 2018, she was a type of archaic human that lived in Eurasia until about 40,000 years ago. According to DNA analysis, they also overlapped with modern humans for approximately 30,000 years. and had occasionally interbred during that period.

Using advanced technology, scientists were able to piece together the fragments of her skull, which had been separated into 200 bone pieces. The process, which involved taking micro-CT scans of each section, took a little over nine months.

shanidar skull
Paleoartists were able to reconstruct her face after piecing 200 skull fragments back together over a period of nine months

Once they finished rebuilding her skull, the team 3D-printed the part, which served as the basis for reconstructing the head.
They also used the contours of her skull and face to determine what she may have looked like when she was alive.

The recreation will be featured in the Netflix documentary ‘Secrets of the Neanderthals’, which will be released on Thursday.

Neanderthals, the closest extinct human relative, had prominent brow ridges and no chins, which made them look different from us, according to paleoanthropologist Dr. Emma Pomeroy, who also appears in the documentary film.

secrets of neanderthals

Looking at the facial reconstruction, however, the difference in appearance may not have been as pronounced as we had thought.

Dr. Pomeroy notes that while there’s some ‘artistic license’ in her recreation, it is created based on real data about what we know about Neanderthals. She also pointed out that while Shanidar Z had a large brow ridges, we probably wouldn’t have looked twice if we saw her in modern clothes.

The Neanderthal Skeleton

The sex of the skeleton wasn’t immediately obvious to scientists as only the upper portion of the body was preserved. The remains also lacked pelvic bones.

It wasn’t until the team used a new technique that involved the sequencing of proteins inside the mouth, that they were able to determine her sex.

By comparing the length of her arm bones with those of modern humans, researchers were able to determine that she was approximately 5 feet tall. They also determined that she was in her mid-40s, based on the wear and tear on her bones and teeth.

Dr. Pomeroy notes, however, that they cannot be ‘100% sure’, though it’s a ‘reasonably estimate’.

The Iraqi Kurdistan Cave

The Kurdistan Cave, located within the Zagros Mountains in northern Iraq, has been a well-known archeological site ever since the 1960s, when researchers discovered a Neanderthal grave in the cave. Their findings had led them to believe that the species may have interred the dead with flowers.

iraqi cave
A Neanderthal grave was discovered in the Iraqi cave in 1960

Subsequent research, however, has cast doubt that they buried flowers with the dead. Rather, the pollen discovered in the grave may have gotten there from pollinating bees.

Despite that, scientists have continued to find evidence regarding their intelligence, including the use of tools.

Research has also found that the Neanderthals purposedly returned to the Iraqi cave to bury the dead. Out of the 10 bodies that were discovered at the site, half appeared to have been laid to rest deliberately in succession.

And while they may not have interred their dead with a bouquet of flowers, it’s likely they were empathetic, according to research. For example, one male who was buried in the cave had head trauma, a paralyzed arm, and was deaf. Despite that, he had lived to an old age, suggesting that he was cared for by someone.

Brooke Carter
Brooke Carter
Freelance writer who loves dogs and anything related to Japanese culture.
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