They reveal the face of a Neanderthal woman who lived 75,000 years ago

What would it be like to meet one of our closest human relatives from 75,000 years ago in person?

A team of scientists carried out a remarkable reconstruction of what a Neanderthal woman would have been like in life.

It is based on the flattened and shattered remains of a skull whose bones were so soft when excavated that they had the consistency of “a well-soaked cookie.”

The researchers first had to strengthen the fragments before reassembling them.

Expert paleoartists then created the 3D model.

The depiction appears in a new BBC documentary for Netflix called “Secrets of the Neanderthals,” which examines what we know about our evolutionary cousins ​​who went extinct around 40,000 years ago.

The sculpture puts a face on these people.

“I think it can help us connect with who they were,” says Dr Emma Pomeroy, a paleoanthropologist on the project at the University of Cambridge.

“It is extremely exciting and a huge privilege to be able to work with the remains of any individual, but especially one as special as this woman,” he told the BBC.

Dr. Emma Pomeroy is in charge of the precious skull, which was loaned by the Kurdish authorities.

The skull on which the model is based was found in the Shanidar Cave, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

It is an emblematic place where the remains of at least 10 Neanderthal men, women and children were unearthed in the 1950s.

When Kurdish authorities invited a British group to return in 2015, they soon found a new skeleton, named Shanidar Z, which comprised a large portion of the individual’s upper body, including the spine, shoulders, arms and hands.

The skull was also virtually present, but crushed into a 2cm thick layer, probably by a rock that had fallen from the cave ceiling at some point in the distant past.

“Basically the skull was as flat as a pizza,” explains Professor Graeme Barker of the Cambridge team, who is leading the new excavations at Shanidar.

“It’s an extraordinary journey to go from that to what you see now. As an archaeologist, sometimes you may feel indifferent to what you are doing, but from time to time you are shaken by the fact that you are touching the past. “We forget how extraordinary this is.”

The remains of at least 10 Neanderthal men, women and children have been found in the Shanidar Cave.

With permission from the local antiquities ministry, the skull fragments were brought to the UK in sediment blocks to begin the painstaking process of extracting them, stabilizing them and then reattaching them.

It took an archaeological curator more than a year to complete the complicated puzzle.

The reconstructed skull was then subjected to surface scanning and a 3D print was delivered to Dutch artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis, known for their ability to create anatomically faithful representations of ancient people from their skeletal and fossil remains.

But as interesting as the sculpture is, with its rather contemplative expression, what has the true value is the original skeleton.

The team is pretty sure “it’s a woman.”

The pelvic bones would aid in the determination, but were not recovered with the upper body.

But the researchers relied on certain dominant proteins found in tooth enamel that are associated with female genetics.

The small stature of the skeleton also supports the interpretation.

Of how many years? He probably died when he was around 40 years old, as also indicated by his teeth worn down almost to the root.

“When your teeth become so worn down, chewing isn’t as effective as it should be, so you can’t eat the same way,” Dr. Pomeroy explained.

“We have other signs of poor dental health: some infections and also some gum diseases. “At that point, I think she was coming to the natural end of her life.”

For a long time, scientists considered Neanderthals to be crude and unsophisticated compared to our species.

But that view has been transformed since the discoveries at Shanidar.

The cave is famous for exhibiting what appears to be some type of funerary practice. The bodies were carefully placed in a ravine next to a tall rock pillar.

All the dead shared a similar orientation in the way they were disposed.

“I think it can help link us to who they were,” says Emma Pomeroy.

Pollen found on a skeleton led some to argue that these Neanderthals could have been buried with flowers, perhaps suggesting spiritual reflection, even religion.

But the British team believes the pollen was most likely subsequently left by burrowing bees, or perhaps by flowering branches placed on top of the bodies.

“Not because of the flowers on the branches, but because the branches themselves could have prevented animals like hyenas from reaching the bodies,” said Professor Chris Hunt of Liverpool John Moores University.

“I would hesitate to use the word ‘burial’; I think I would use the word ‘placement’ to get away from the idea of ​​a vicar and the church. But there is absolutely no doubt that they maintained a tradition of how and where to place the dead grandmother.”

Additional reporting by Gwyndaf Hughes.

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