I just finished reading a paper by Trinkaus and Buzhilova (in press) on the death of the Sunghir 1. Sunghir 1 was an old man dating to the Early Gravettian (somewhere b/w 28-24kya) who was buried with an extremely lavish set of grave goods, including ornaments comprising several thousands of mammoth ivory beads, ivory bracelets, a schist pendant and a lot of red ochre spread over the entire burial. There is no question that this is one of the most remarkable Upper Paleolithic burials know.
How does that relate to Shanidar 3, you ask? Well, beyond the fact that Shanidar 3 has been argued to be an intentional burial, Trinkaus and Buzhilova report that, during a renewed inventory of the Sunghir 1 remains undertaken in 2009 which included a careful cleaning of the remains, they identified "an oblique defect, medial-caudal to lateral-cranial, on the left ventral corner of the body" of the Sunghir 1 first thoracic vertebra (T1). I'll return to the details of the Sunghir 1 injury in an upcoming post, but suffice it to say here that they are able to show that the lesion is indicative of a wound inflicted by a sharp implement and that would have been lethal to Sunghir 1.
OK, so returning to our dead
Churchill et al. (2009) have argued that the injuries to Shanidar 3 and Saint-Césaire 1 are likely to have been perpetrated on these Neandertals by early modern humans. They argue for probable regional sympatry of Shanidar 3 with early modern humans in southwest Asia and certain sympatry for Saint- Césaire 1 in western Europe and superior projectile technology among early modern humans with respect to the Middle Paleolithic Shanidar 3. However, their argument, despite caveats, requires distortions of the relevant geochronology, misrepresentation of the available technology, and special pleading. In western Europe, there is no evidence for (presumably modern human associated) Aurignacian levels stratified below those of the (Neandertal associated) Châtelperronian (Bordes, 2003; Zilhão et al., 2006), as it is at Saint-Césaire (Lévêque et al., 1993), and all of the reliable dates place the Châtelperronian prior to the Aurignacian (Zilhão & d’Errico, 2003). The one radiometric date for the Saint-Césaire Châtelperronian level, a TL date (36 300±2700 cal BP) (Mercier et al., 1991), has a sufficiently large standard error to make it inappropriate to date the burial relative to Châtelperronian or Aurigiacian levels in the region. There is therefore no evidence, either paleontological or by assuming that the earliest Aurignacian was made by modern humans, that there were modern humans in western Europe at the time of Saint-Césaire 1. Churchill et al.’s assessment of the relative ages of Shanidar 3 and early modern humans in southwest Asia confuses radiocarbon and calendar years and makes unwarranted assumptions of who was responsible for which technocomplex; a reassessment of the available dates for diagnostic human remains, plus the stratigraphic position of Shanidar 3, clarifies the chronology. Shanidar 3 derives from near the top of Level D of Shanidar Cave, but stratigraphically well below the radiocarbon dates of ~47 and ~51 ka 14C BP (~51 and ~56ka cal BP) (Trinkaus, 1983). The youngest Middle Paleolithic modern humans within southwest Asia (at Qafzeh and Skhul) are MIS 5c in age (~90–100 ka cal BP) (Valladas et al., 1988; Stringer et al., 1989), and hence much older. Modern human remains do not reappear in southwest Asia until at least 35 ka 14C BP (~40 ka cal BP) (Bergman & Stringer, 1989), ~15 000 years later. In the Zagros the Baradostian technocomplex, the more recent phases of which are associated with modern humans (Scott & Marean, 2009), is dated to ~36 ka 14C BP (~41 ka cal BP) (Otte & Kozlowski, 2007). In addition, contra Shea & Sisk (2010), there are no diagnostic human remains associated with the eastern Mediterranean littoral IUP, that is ~35 ka 14C BP (~40 ka cal BP); Qafzeh 1 and 2 are undated, Ksar Akil 1 is younger, and the few IUP Üçağızlı teeth may well be Neandertals (Neuville, 1951; Bergman & Stringer, 1989; Gulec et al., 2007). One must go to equatorial Africa to find roughly contemporaneous modern humans (Haile-Selassie et al., 2004). With respect to technology, either Châtelperronian or Aurignacian lithics could have inflicted the frontal wound on Saint-Césaire 1. Although Middle Paleolithic spears appear to have mostly had relatively thick lithic points (Shea, 2006), thinner tools capable of producing the Shanidar 3 injury are represented in the Shanidar (and southwest Asian) Middle Paleolithic (Skinner, 1965). Moreover, one has to go to southern Africa to find evidence for contemporaneous ‘advanced’ projectile weaponry (Shea, 2006; Lombard & Phillipson, 2010; but see comments and caveats in Villa & Soriano (2010) and Lombard & Phillipson (2010)). Therefore, contra Churchill et al. (2009), the Shanidar and Saint Césaire Neandertals had the technology available to inflict their respective wounds, and there is no evidence (direct or indirect) for synchronous and sympatric modern humans. It is inappropriate to infer that individuals responsible for the Shanidar 3 and Saint-Césaire1 injuries were other than Neandertals." (Trinkaus and Buzhilova, in press: 7).
So, in a nutshell, there is no good reason to assume that the wounds sustained by Shanidar 3 were inflicted by modern humans. In fact, all of the available evidence points to Shanidar 3 having lived at a moment when only Neanderthals were kicking around the Zagros, and that they had access to technology that could well have left the mark found on the Shanidar 3 ribs.
Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, setting the record straight on this destroys any evidence for the interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans having been strictly inimical and violent. For another, it provides up a fascinating and heretofore underappreciated glimpse into the range of interpersonal relations Neanderthals could have had with other Neanderthals. Given the tendency by many to see Neanderthal behavior has homogeneous and monotonous, emphasizing that their interactionswith others of their kind were occasionally violent to the point of being lethal contributes to showing them to have been all too humans in certain respects.
Churchill, S., Franciscus, R., McKean-Peraza, H., Daniel, J., & Warren, B. (2009). Shanidar 3 Neandertal rib puncture wound and paleolithic weaponry Journal of Human Evolution, 57 (2), 163-178 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.05.010
Trinkaus, E., & Buzhilova, A. (2010). The death and burial of sunghir 1 International Journal of Osteoarchaeology DOI: 10.1002/oa.1227