A Plausible Projection

October 1, 2009

What happened to a Neanderthal man named Shanidar 3 more than 500 centuries ago? Steven Churchill, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology, has an idea. Discovered in Iraq in the 1950s with a pierced ninth rib, Shanidar 3 has perplexed investigators ever since. Churchill was originally looking into Neanderthal's aerobic capacity and body shape for an article when, he says, the journal's editor asked him to speculate on what had happened to the rib.

Using a pig's carcass as a stand-in for Neanderthal's shorter, stockier body type, Churchill and his colleagues tried to simulate various kinds of harm to its ribcage. They determined that the injury Shanidar 3 sustained was likely caused by a projectile weapon, namely a stone-tipped spear. The only other living beings known to have hunted with spears at that time and place were our early-modern-human ancestors—what anthropologists used to refer to as Cro-Magnons, Churchill says.

"We try to make clear in the paper that this is a good candidate for inter-species violence between Neanderthals and modern humans," Churchill says. But, he hastens to add that these findings indicate an isolated case. He doesn't believe that there were anything like "modern humans marching across the land executing the Neanderthals."

Steven Churchill

Les Todd