Neanderthal Burial

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryDeep in Iraq’s Shanidar Cave, archaeologists have uncovered what looks like a Neanderthal ceremonial burial. Until about 30 years ago, many anthropologists had thought Neanderthal, the biological cousins to our species, did not perform ceremonial burials for their dead. They were human, but for the longest time we did not know nor did not suspect that Neanderthal were capable of more than just mere existence. Findings within the last generation have indicated Neanderthal were far more like us than we realize. There are three things that make this determination. First, we have found cave paintings by Neanderthal which suggests abstract thinking and a curiosity about the natural world. Second, we have found what can only be called ceremonial objects that had no practical purpose for hunting, scraping meat of dead animal carcasses, and could not have been used for fighting. And then there is the intentional burial of their dead which is showing a sophistication until recently only associated with modern homo sapiens (us).

But how do we know it was a ceremonial burial and not a method of just disposing of the body? We have to keep in mind that burial could have been purely for preventing wild animals from trying to get at the body and then threatening everyone else in the cave. Also, it would have been the most sanitary way of disposing of a corpse. First, archaeologists noticed that the body was carefully buried in a certain part of the cave and not just anywhere. Second, flower pollen was found with the body indicating that flowers might have been placed on the body as a term of reverence. Finally, things that the individual used in life, such as stone utensils and spear points, were also found with the body. If the Neanderthal individuals in the cave did not care about their dead, why would they go to all this trouble? Clearly it shows mourning and probably a preparation for the afterlife. How and why Neanderthal disappeared remains a mystery, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Neanderthal was very much like us, and no less human.

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