Shanidar 3 Neandertal Rib Puncture Wound and Paleolithic Weaponry


J. Whittaker: Shanidar 3 adult male, one of 9 Neanderthal skeletons in cave, has well-preserved ribs with partly healed injury to L 9th rib. Below C14 dates around 50 kya uncal. Baradostian (early Upper Paleolithic) at Shanidar not until 35 kya; timing of modern human arrival in area not clear. Possible assoc of early moderns with projectile weapons after 50 kya elsewhere; would have been competitive “edge.”

Parallel sided (but wider inside than out) wound on top of 9 rib, small injury to bottom of 8 at same place. Healing, but point could have remained in wound; decayed if wood, lost if stone. Probably injured lung, but healing shows 2 weeks to 2 months survival.

Experiments: kinetic energy most important measure of projectile impact. Dart velocity ave 24 m per second [around those I got in Whittaker + Kamp 2007], so KE (.5 x mass x velocity squared) 8-51 Joules, mostly 26-28 J in experiment literature. Thrust experiment (Schmitt et al. 2003) spear velocity 1.7 m/sec, KE = 42J. This experiment used pig ribs, calibrated cross-bow, stone tipped spears with 3 pts: Mousterian, Levallois, and long L. Spear + pt mass ca 530 gm, velocity 13.4 mps at 31 kg draw weight (KE low end range of heavy thrust spears) and 7.8 mps at 15 kg (KE in low end of dart range]. 7 “stabs” [but actually launched spear at close range] with high KE, 11 with low KE, also comp to 26 goat ribs from another experiment. High KE much more damage to ribs, including not just incisions, but fracture, crushing, removal of fragments, and hinged fragments. [But they overlap, so differences are NOT diagnostic]. Penetration depth low, usually less than 90 mm [that’s not much, suggests problem with experiment].

Conclude: Shanidar injury probably low KE because most damage to one rib, not adjacent ribs, no fracture, just incision. Consistent with dart or knife, accident or agression. Downward wound on L suggests right handed attacker [only if it’s a thrust]. Assuming heavy Neanderthal hand thrown or thrust spear, should have made high KE type wound, so wound is “most consistent” with light-weight, long range (low KE) projectile weapon, implying conflict between Ns and modern humans.

[Interesting, but much less conclusive than they claim. They admit the uncertainties but still reach the conclusion they want, despite artificial conditions of experiment, samples that are far too small, wound features that overlap, too many assumptions about velocity and weight of projectiles, insufficient evidence of N-modern overlap. And I bet they have never observed wounds of any kind under real hunting conditions.]

Cite this Record

Shanidar 3 Neandertal Rib Puncture Wound and Paleolithic Weaponry. Steven E Churchill, Robert Franciscus, Hilary Mckean-Peraza, Julie Daniel, Brittany Warren Warren. Journal of Human Evolution. 57: 163-178. 2009 ( tDAR id: 423349)

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Atlatl Weapon

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Contact(s): EXARC Experimental Archaeology Collection Manager

Record Identifiers

ExArc Id(s): 10160


Rights & Attribution: The information in this record was originally compiled by Dr. Roeland Paardekooper, EXARC Director.