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Neanderthals Murdered by Humans?

July 24, 2009

TIME has an interesting article surrounding the death of Shanidar 3, the name given to a Neanderthal skeleton found in the 1950’s.

Shanidar 3 suffered a wound to his torso, which left marks on ribs, and likely caused his death. Forensic anthropologists now believe that this wound was caused by a thrown spear, which, at the time, was the primary weapon choice of humans. Neanderthals themselves hunted with thrusted spears at close range within the caves and forests. Humans, having hunted on the plains of Africa, learned to use throwing weapons to kill much faster prey in open fields.

To learn the cause of Shanidar 3’s wound, [Evolutionary Anthropology Professor, Steven] Churchill and his team used a specially designed crossbow to fire stone-age projectiles at precise velocities at pig carcasses (a pig’s skin and ribs are believed to be roughly as tough as a Neanderthal’s).

Perhaps what is most compelling about the article is that it focuses on a new way of thinking about the demise of the Neanderthals. Scientists have changed their theories over the past decades about Neanderthal extinction and many now believe that perhaps they met a violent end.

Some scientists believe that Neanderthals went extinct after a particularly volatile period of climate change shrank their arboreal hunting grounds. Others suggest they may have interbred with humans. A newer theory focuses on a violent end at the hands of Homo sapiens.

Other interesting articles on similar topics can be read at and can be found here, here, and here.

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