A fascinating project has revealed a detailed reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman’s face, bringing insights into the life of one of our closest ancient relatives from 75,000 years ago. This significant scientific achievement is featured in the new BBC Studios documentary for Netflix, “Secrets of the Neanderthals”.

The Neanderthal, reconstructed based on skeletal remains from Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan, represents an interesting link to our evolutionary history. The original skull, which had been compressed to a thickness of just 2cm, likely due to a rockfall, underwent meticulous restoration by specialists in the UK. Dr. Emma Pomeroy from the University of Cambridge, involved in the project, expressed her excitement to BBC News:

It’s extremely exciting and a massive privilege actually to be able to work with the remains of any individual but especially one as special as her.

Emma Pomeroy from the University of Cambridge

Professor Graeme Barker, who leads the ongoing excavations at Shanidar, reflected on the significance of the reconstruction.

The skull was as flat as a pizza, basically. It’s a remarkable journey to go from that to what you see now.

Professor Graeme Barker, excavation lead

His team’s efforts have not only restored the skull but also provided a visceral connection to human history.

The facial reconstruction was accomplished by Dutch artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis, noted for their anatomically accurate depictions of ancient human beings based on fossil evidence. Their work adds a powerful visual dimension to our understanding of Neanderthals, who were once thought to be unsophisticated but are now recognised for their complex social practices, possibly including burial rituals.

Shanidar Cave has been a site of significant archaeological interest since the 1950s, when the remains of multiple Neanderthals were discovered. The site gained renewed attention when a British team, invited by Kurdish authorities, uncovered new remains in 2015, including the nearly complete upper body of the Neanderthal now reconstructed.

The documentary also explores intriguing aspects of Neanderthal life revealed through these findings, such as potential burial practices and the challenging environmental conditions they faced. The reconstruction’s pensive expression adds depth to our perception of Neanderthals, supporting recent scholarship that highlights their sophisticated social behaviours.

While the physical reconstruction provides a captivating visual, the real value lies in the original skeleton, which offers direct insights into Neanderthal life. Analysis suggests the Neanderthal was a female in her mid-40s, with teeth worn down from use, indicating the natural ageing process.

“Secrets of the Neanderthals” is set to premiere globally on Netflix this Thursday, offering viewers a unique glimpse into the lives of these fascinating prehistoric people.

Image Source:

  • Neanderthal Woman: BBC News