Shanidar 3 Neandertal rib puncture wound and paleolithic weaponry.
Since its discovery and initial description in the 1960s, the penetrating lesion to the left ninth rib of the Shanidar 3 Neandertal has been a focus for discussion about interpersonal violence and weapon technology in the Middle Paleolithic. Recent experimental studies using lithic points on animal targets suggest that aspects of weapon system dynamics can be inferred from the form of the bony lesions they produce. Thus, to better understand the circumstances surrounding the traumatic injury suffered by Shanidar 3, we conducted controlled stabbing experiments with replicas of Mousterian and Levallois points directed against the thoraces of pig carcasses. Stabs were conducted under both high and low kinetic energy conditions, in an effort to replicate the usual impact forces associated with thrusting spear vs. long-range projectile weapon systems, respectively. Analysis of the lesions produced in the pig ribs, along with examination of goat ribs subjected primarily to high kinetic energy stabs from an independent experiment, revealed consistent differences in damage patterns between the two conditions. In the case of Shanidar 3, the lack of major involvement of more than one rib, the lack of fracturing of the affected and adjacent ribs, and the lack of bony defects associated with the lesion (such as wastage, hinging, and radiating fracture lines) suggests that the weapon that wounded him was carrying relatively low kinetic energy. While accidental injury or attack with a thrusting spear or knife cannot absolutely be ruled out, the position, angulation, and morphology of the lesion is most consistent with injury by a low-mass, low-kinetic energy projectile weapon. Given the potential temporal overlap of Shanidar 3 with early modern humans in western Asia, and the possibility that the latter were armed with projectile weapon systems, this case carries more than simple paleoforensic interest.
Churchill, SE; Franciscus, RG; McKean-Peraza, HA; Daniel, JA; Warren, BR
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