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Shanidar 3 - Neanderthal Skeleton

See this Neanderthal skeleton in the Hall of Human Origins

Homo neanderthalensis
Shanidar 3 Skeleton from Shanidar Cave, Iraq
45,000 – 35,000 years old

This fossilized Neanderthal skeleton, on display in the Hall of Human Origins, is one of 10 individuals excavated from Shanidar Cave in Iraq. The site yielded one of the largest samples of Neanderthal fossils found anywhere in the world.

Scientists uncovered more than 130 bones and many small fragments of just this one individual. Assembling them into a single skeleton was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle.

B/W photo of Shanidar 3 Neanderthal bones shown in cave sediments during excavation.
Photograph of the Shanidar 3 skeleton in the cave sediments.

Where Was the Fossil Skeleton Found? 
It was discovered in 1957 in Shanidar Cave, Iraq. Between 1953 and 1960, the skeletons of seven other adults and two infants were excavated from the same cave. The fossils were discovered in sediments about 13.7 m (45 ft) deep along with stone tools, hearths, and evidence of purposeful burials.

Map showing the location of Shanidar Cave in Iraq
Location of Shanidar Cave site in Iraq
Archeological excavations within the entrance of Shanidar Cave.
Archeological excavations at the entrance to Shanidar Cave. View from inside the cave looking out.


Why Is the Fossil Skeleton at the Smithsonian?
In the early 1950s, the Iraqi Director General of Antiquites and the Smithsonian Institution agreed to conduct a joint excavation of Shanidar Cave.  Some of the finds were accessioned to in the Smithsonian collections for study and conservation, as allowed by Iraq’s Antiquities Law.
Who Was This Individual?
Scientists estimate he was a 40- to 50-year-old male, about 1.69 m (5 ft 6 in) tall. He suffered from arthritis and most likely died from a stab wound to his chest. He may have been buried by members of his group or by a rock fall from the cave roof.
What Was His Life Like?
The raised areas on his upper arm bone show that strong shoulder and chest muscles put a lot of stress on his arm bones. Along with the overall thickness of the bones, these areas indicate that this Neanderthal led an active life, working hard to hunt and gather food. 

Shanidar 3 right humerus bone shaft, arrow pointing at raised area of bone indicating strong shoulder muscles
Shanidar 3 right humerus bone shaft


How Do We Know His Age?
The crowns of his teeth are worn down almost to the roots. This strong wear—along with age-related changes in his hip bone and microscopic studies of bone tissue—show that he was at least 40 years old.

Shanidar 3 lower incisor with arrow pointing at strong wear at the top of the tooth.
Shanidar 3 lower incisor showing strong wear on the top of the tooth.


What Did He Eat?
Hardened plaque on one of his molar teeth contains starch grains, indicating that this individual ate plants. Chemical analysis of the bones also points to a diet that contained plant food.

Shanidar 3 molar, showing heavily worn crown and an arrow pointing to hardened plaque
Shanidar 3 molar with heavily worn crown and arrow pointing to hardened plaque


How Did He Die?
Notice the partially healed stab wound on his ninth left rib. The depth of the cut indicates that a sharp instrument stabbed his chest and probably collapsed his lung. This may be evidence of the oldest-known homicide, or attempted homicide, in the fossil record.

Arrow pointing to partially healed stab wound on Shanidar 3 rib
Partially healed stab wound on Shanidar 3's left, ninth rib.

How Do We Know He Was Male?
The large size of his bones and joints are typical of Neanderthal males, who were usually larger than females. The elbow bone highlighted here is the largest of its kind known in any Neanderthal.

Shanidar 3 left radius, upper end of bone
Shanidar 3 left radius bone, upper end


Did He Have Any Diseases?
Arthritic growths are visable on his right ankle joint. They are another sign of advanced age.

Ankle joint of Shanidar 3 showing arthritic growths.
Right talus bone of Shanidar 3 showing arthritic growths.


Want to learn more about the Neanderthals buried in Shanidar Cave? Explore this video interactive

Want to see a facial reconstruction of Shanidar 1 and learn about ancient DNA? Visit this page


Illustration of artist's reconstruction of burial of one of the Shanidar Neanderthals (Shanidar 4)
Burial reconstruction of one of the Shanidar Neanderthals (Shanidar 4)


Page last updated: October 18, 2018