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  1. ITV Report

Caveman find could prove Neanderthals more sophisticated than thought

A 70,000-year-old skeleton could prove that Neanderthals were sophisticated enough to stage funerals.

The remains were found in the foothills of Iraq by archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and John Moore's in Liverpool.

The remains, consisting of a crushed but complete skull, upper thorax and both ands, were recently unearthed at the Shanidar Cave site 500 miles north of Baghdad.

Although its gender is yet to be determined, early analysis suggests the skeleton, named Shanidar Z, is more than 70,000 years old and has the teeth of a "middle- to older-aged adult".

The site where the bones were found Credit: Graeme Barker/University of Cambridge/PA Wire

The cave has also been home to remains of 10 other Neanderthal people excavated around 60 years ago, with clumps of ancient pollen surrounding one of the skeletons.

The presence of pollen was seen by some archaeologists as evidence that these hominid species not only buried their dead but did so with flowers, challenging the widely-held belief that Neanderthals were dumb and animalistic.

Four of the 10 Neanderthals at the site were positioned in what the researchers described as a "unique assemblage", raising a question as to whether they were returning to the same spot to lay their dead.

Professor Graeme Barker, from Cambridge University's McDonald Institute of Archaeology, said:

"The new excavation suggests that some of these bodies were laid in a channel in the cave floor created by water, which had then been intentionally dug to make it deeper. "There is strong early evidence that Shanidar Z was deliberately buried."

– Prof Graeme Baker

The team is also analysing sediment samples from Shanidar Z, along with traces of pollen and charcoal from the site, to find out more about the life of the Neanderthals.

Dr Emma Pomeroy, from Cambridge University's department of archaeology and lead author on the study, said:

"In recent years we have seen increasing evidence that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than previously thought, from cave markings to use of decorative shells and raptor talons.

"If Neanderthals were using Shanidar cave as a site of memory for the repeated ritual interment of their dead, it would suggest cultural complexity of a high order."

– Dr Emma Pomeroy

The findings are published in the journal Antiquity.