The face of a Neanderthal from 75,000 years ago has been found by scientists

Courtesy Netflix

,-  A woman in her 40s was meticulously arranged in a gully and her left hand curled beneath her head when she was laid to rest in a cave in Iraqi Kurdistan around 75,000 years ago. A rock may have been placed behind her head for comfort. About 40,000 years ago, the Neanderthal species—which included this ancient woman, Shanidar Z—went extinct.

Her bones were found in Shanidar Cave in 2018; since then, nine months have passed while scientists painstakingly rebuilt her skull from 200 bone fragments. This laborious task was made in order to learn more about her life and appearance.

In a recent BBC documentary for Netflix called "Secrets of the Neanderthals," the rebuilt face of Shanidar Z is featured. Streaming now, this documentary explores the amazing world of Neanderthals and the discoveries made about them.

Lead of the excavation and reconstruction work was paleoanthropologist and associate professor at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Emma Pomeroy. She underlines that although there is some artistic interpretation in the face reconstruction, actual scientific data derived from the skull parts forms the basis. The rebuilt face of Shanidar Z defies accepted ideas about Neanderthals by showing a bigger face with noticeable brow ridges.
Graeme Barker

For over 300,000 years, Neanderthals—ancient human cousins—inhabited parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia; they overlapped with Homo sapiens for roughly 30,000 years. Genetic research indicates that during this time Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred and encountered each other on occasion.

Since the 1950s, Shanidar Cave—where Shanidar Z was interred—has attracted a great deal of archaeological attention. The finding of Neanderthal remains—among them Shanidar Z—has shed important light on the social and burial customs of these humans.

Given Shanidar Z's limited bodily preservation, it was first difficult to ascertain her sex. She was female, nonetheless, according to more recent methods like protein sequencing. Her bones and teeth revealed that she lived a comparatively long life for her time, being about five feet tall and in her mid-40s at the time of her death.

The significance of the cave goes beyond the interment of Shanidar Z. Previous finds in the cave disproved notions of Neanderthals as uncivilized people, including a Neanderthal grave with possible floral burial evidence. Recent studies, however, indicate that the pollen discovered might not have been placed deliberately but rather was deposited by pollinating bees.

Archaeological discoveries, although doubts, are illuminating the social interactions, cultural customs, and intelligence of Neanderthals. Particularly Shanidar Cave has produced several Neanderthal bones, indicating that it was used repeatedly for funeral customs across many generations.

Though it was a painstaking procedure like a "high-stakes 3D jigsaw puzzle," recreating Shanidar Z's skull gave important information about her physical characteristics. The base for a lifelike face reconstruction made by Dutch paleoartists Adrie and Alfons Kennis bridged the gap between anatomy and thousands of years of human history.

Shanidar Z, then, is a window into the lives of Neanderthals, providing information on their social structure, burial customs, and looks. Hers and similar discoveries help us to better comprehend our ancestors and their role in evolutionary history as long as research is conducted.

(Newsline Paper Teams)
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