Secrets of the Neanderthals (2024) Movie Script

[tense, mysterious music playing]
[wind whistling, rustling]
[Sir Patrick Stewart] Long ago,
the plains of East Africa
were home to our distant ancestors.
[tense music continues]
[Stewart] For reasons lost to time,
some of these ancestors
decided to leave and headed north
to become the Neanderthals.
Over time their numbers grew.
Their territories stretching from Russia
to the Atlantic Coast.
Small clans roaming
across this vast wilderness.
Surviving against the odds
for over 300,000 years
until, suddenly,
they disappeared.
Only in a few places,
have their remains survived,
and one of the most significant
is found in the Middle East,
an archaeological treasure trove
hidden deep in the mountains of Kurdistan,
Shanidar Cave.
[man in Kurdish] The Shanidar Cave
is regarded as one
of the most revered caves in the world
during the time of the Neanderthals
and Homo Sapiens.
In a place where life
has been ever present,
we might find answers to questions.
Questions that are still mysterious.
[Stewart] Who were the Neanderthals?
What made them so successful for so long?
And why, ultimately, did they disappear?
[music fades]
[woman] The Shanidar Cave's
in the foothills of the Bradost Mountains,
but to call them foothills
doesn't conjure up the right image.
It feels mountainous.
It's quite jagged and precipitous.
Shanidar Cave makes an impression
just because of its size and its scale.
You have to approach from below,
and it's incredibly impressive.
It's very large.
It has a very wide mouth,
so it's very light.
You have the swifts
kind of flying in overhead,
and eagles circling above,
and wolves howling at night.
It's an amazing place.
[birds chirping]
And to actually be the person
who's excavating that as well
is extremely extraordinary.
[Stewart] Emma is part of a team
of British archaeologists
invited by their Kurdish colleagues
to continue work in the cave.
[Emma] Shanidar Cave is hugely iconic
in the history of Neanderthal studies,
and played
a really pivotal role in us rethinking
what we assumed Neanderthals did,
and what they were like,
and what they were capable of.
The aim of the new project is to use
the whole range of archaeological science
now available to us,
to shed new light on Neanderthal behavior.
[Stewart] The trench
has not been excavated since the 1960s.
And since that time,
the way we think about our closest
human relatives has shifted considerably.
We still use the word
Neanderthal to describe somebody
that's kind of oafish, whatever.
It's still used as a term of abuse
in common parlance,
"He's a real Neanderthal."
Archaeologically, they are more
and more similar to Homo Sapiens,
and much of that rethinking owes
its origins to the work
that Ralph Solecki did here
in Shanidar Cave.
[evocative music playing]
Ralph Solecki was born in 1917.
He died a few years ago at a great age.
He was incredibly tough.
He stood on a land mine
in the Second World War,
and, miraculously, survived.
He was clearly a very remarkable man.
It's not clear to me precisely
how he heard of Shanidar,
but he came here, and he worked here
for five seasons between 1951 and 1960.
He laid out a trench
that went north-south
covering most of the floor of the cave.
[evocative music playing]
[Graeme] Why the site became so well-known
is he found ten Neanderthal men,
women, and children.
[upbeat electric guitar music playing]
[music peaks, fades]
[Barzani in Kurdish] At that time,
we were young.
I was approximately...
seventeen, eighteen years old.
The doctor taught us.
Many stones came out of the cave,
large stones.
They used explosives.
They found the Neanderthal skeletons.
It was a big deal.
Their ribs and bones were thick.
Their head was very large.
Their hands,
everything about them was striking.
[Stewart] This was Solecki's
first major discovery.
He labelled it Shanidar 1.
A skeleton from a species
very different to our own.
[pensive music playing]
[Graeme] They've got
rather more robust features.
Big brow ridges
and a rather differently shaped skull,
and we have this very rounded skull.
They're stocky.
We assume
they must have some kind of language.
The more we know about them,
the more it's clear
that they were much more complicated
than we thought 40, 50 years ago.
[man in Kurdish] We call it
the tree of life.
Each human and each animal
becomes a branch on that tree of life.
We are one of the branches,
and the Neanderthals were another.
Somewhere along the line, we separated.
[birds chirping]
I truly feel
that I am sitting on my cousin's remains.
[Emma] At the moment,
we are about 4.5 meters
from the surface of the cave.
So this is about 45,000 years ago.
This is the level at which we have
the burial or deposition of Shanidar 1.
[tense, dramatic music playing]
[Emma] He'd had an injury
to the right side of his head.
But also to the left eye,
which might well have left him
blind in that eye,
and might be linked
to some of his other injuries.
[music continues]
[Emma] He was also paralyzed
down his right arm,
and had both broken
his right arm in more than one place,
but also, it seems,
that either had the lower part
intentionally or accidentally removed,
so, basically, had no right arm
from just above the elbow.
There were also other injuries.
He had quite severe arthritis in his knee.
Fractures to bones in his foot.
So perhaps in terms of, say, hunting,
he might have not been able to hunt
in the typical way,
but had survived to a relatively old age.
[birds chirping]
[music continues]
[Stewart] The implication
of the new find was profound.
[music fading]
[Emma] The discovery of Shanidar 1
was potentially a huge shift
because it did suggest that, perhaps,
there was this element of caring
and compassion in Neanderthal society.
[Stewart] Here was evidence
of a severely injured individual
being supported by their clan.
[tense, mysterious music playing]
[Stewart] And soon,
Solecki unearthed another body
with an equally remarkable story to tell.
Shanidar 3 was another adult male,
and he too, carried injuries,
including what looked like
a serious wound to his ribs.
A stark reminder
of the violent side of Neolithic life.
Remarkably, elsewhere in the cave,
more relics have been found
that offer a clue to Shanidar 3's fate.
These are some of the artifacts
recovered from Shanidar Cave.
So, this larger piece is what we call
a "core." Now, a core is a cobble.
Cobbles are, basically, rounded stones
that could be from the river.
Neanderthal picked this up
with the intention of taking off pieces,
either for this to become a tool itself,
or for the pieces that come off,
which we call "flakes,"
to be used as a tool.
All readily available in the Zab River,
which is about two miles that way.
So, I'm attempting
to make something similar to a spearhead.
What I basically do is
go along the edge
and take off smaller pieces.
By doing that,
I'm essentially sharpening it.
I've not removed that much,
but already we can see
that it is quite sharp.
So a spear point like that,
has only taken me
about five or six minutes to produce.
This is a very deadly weapon
used in the right hands,
and someone who understands
what they're doing,
and what they're holding.
[music intensifies]
[music fading]
[Emma] One of the interesting things
with Shanidar 3
is that they had a puncture wound.
That suggests that this stone tip
to a spear, or whatever it was,
went in some distance into the rib cage.
It might well have punctured the lung
and caused a collapsed lung.
[music peaks up]
[speaks Neanderthal]
[music fades]
[Emma] The wound to the ribs
is consistent with a projectile.
You can imagine
sort of a spear being thrown.
[Emma] It could be a hunting accident.
It could be violence between people.
But what we can say is
that they did have this wound,
and that they had survived for some time.
And so that might suggest
that they had some support
and help to make it through the injury.
[Neanderthal grunting]
[Stewart] Though severely injured,
it appears both Shanidar 3 and Shanidar 1
had been cared for
by the people around them.
This was a radical new view
of Neanderthal life.
And elsewhere,
more evidence of their behavior
had been found in a cave
far to the northwest of Shanidar.
[suspenseful music playing]
[woman] Every new evidence,
that you have about Neanderthals,
is actually showing you
how human they are.
But their behavior
was different from ours.
They lived in a completely
different world to our world.
This is part of the Krapina Collection.
They are around 130,000 years old,
and they are the biggest collection
of Neanderthals coming from a single site.
We are estimating possibly up
to around 80 individual Neanderthals.
You don't have their whole bodies buried.
You actually have just fragments
of each of those individuals.
So that is very unusual.
On the Krapina bones, both cranial,
so skull bones, and also postcranial,
you see a lot of, uh,
human-made cut marks.
What this is is a tibia,
and there is a possibility
that it was broken on purpose,
that it was smashed.
You can also see cut marks here
and even some other marks.
One of the reasons
you would maybe smash a long bone
is because it's like a container
of bone marrow.
This is a fibula that has
another interesting kind of marking
on the surface of the bone.
They were probably made
when someone was scraping off
the remaining flesh of the bone
or remaining muscle tissue of the bone.
As you would do
when you were just like doing the same
with your chicken bone at your lunch.
[Davorka] When you hear
they were eating each other,
you're immediately, like, shocked.
[scraping continues]
[Davorka] But it's also the question,
"What kind of cannibalism?"
What did it mean to them?
Look at this,
it cuts like a real kitchen knife.
- [Davorka] It's almost effortless.
- [Ankica] Yes, so easy.
Recreating the tools,
the ways to do stuff,
we are trying to go into the head
of those people,
and, you know, see the cognitive processes
that go behind.
[Davorka] So, what is different is
that we're just getting cut marks
close to the articulation sites.
And what is weird
in the human remains in Krapina is
that you are getting it
all along the long bones.
So as if someone
is actually scraping it continuously.
[Ankica] Yes.
[Davorka] I cannot imagine, like,
doing this to someone I actually know.
So, this is the famous Krapina 3 skull.
It is the most complete cranial specimen
in the whole collection,
and it's the only one that has a face.
This person, we believe, was a female.
A young Neanderthal in her 20s.
What is very interesting
is that on the frontal bone,
you have a series
of something like 40 cut marks.
There is determination
to do 40 cut marks
slowly and very close together.
Even if they were consuming these bones,
I don't think it was
because they were starving.
It's actually deeply complex behavior.
[tense, mysterious music playing]
[Davorka] Maybe by consuming the flesh
of the person they knew,
they want to get some kind of virtue,
something that they admired in this person
that they shared their lives with.
In the ethnographic examples
that we know of,
until recently, people consumed
their loved ones
because by consuming their flesh,
they're trying to take in something
that can continue on to other generations,
you know, it's some kind of legacy.
I cannot say that this was exactly
what was the driving force
behind this kind
of behavior in Neanderthals,
but it's another possibility.
[Stewart] The way Neanderthals
treated their dead
shows us the complexity of their thinking.
And nowhere is this better understood
than in Ralph Solecki's
most famous discovery,
Shanidar 4, or what became known
as "The Flower Burial."
[Ralph Solecki] Now in this cave,
we have found nine Neanderthals,
of which two are most important.
Number 1 found over there,
at the depth of about five meters,
and one here, Shanidar 4,
found at a depth of about seven meters.
Ralph Solecki was one
of the world's great archaeologists.
There's no doubt at all,
and he was a great storyteller.
This seems to indicate, perhaps,
the first signs of spiritual evolution
and maybe the first stirrings of religion.
[tense music playing]
[Chris Hunt] The flower burial was one
of these seminal moments,
because it was pretty well
a complete Neanderthal,
which was an incredible rarity.
And it was sampled for pollen,
which at the time,
was quite a radical thing to do.
We had found pollen
extracted from the soil,
something like this,
and this pollen
indicates the eight types of flowers,
which we think
were interred with the individual.
[Chris] He doesn't quite go
as far as saying,
"They conducted a funeral service,"
but that's sort of the way
that the prose takes you.
[John Solecki] "Someone
in the last ice age
had ranged the mountains
in the mournful task
of collecting flowers."
[sad music playing]
[Chris] The public perception
of the Neanderthals
always was that they lived ugly lives.
They were ugly people.
They had no finer feelings.
They had no higher thought.
And here were
sensitive caring individuals.
And it made every front page,
because here you have
weeping Neanderthals gathering plants,
from the hillside around,
to honor their dead.
[John Solecki] Here were
the first "Flower People,"
a discovery wholly unprecedented
in archaeology.
[sad music continues]
[music fades]
[birds chirping]
[tense music playing]
[Stewart] In the years
since the discovery of Shanidar 4,
the Flower Burial theory
has come under fire.
Somebody who's studying jirds,
which are little burrowing mammals,
a little bit like a hamster with a tail,
found that the jirds took
flowers into their burrows to eat them.
So, that was quite
a body blow in many ways,
particularly because Solecki had noticed
what appeared to be animal burrows.
[Stewart] But the team have
new evidence that suggests
Solecki was partly right after all.
[Chris] This is a landscape which has
things like hyenas and wolves in it,
and leopards, even today.
If they just left a body,
almost certainly, something
would have come along and eaten it.
[tense music continues]
[Chris] These are
basically whole individuals
that haven't had that done to them.
In some way, these bodies were protected.
My guesstimate is that,
probably, they were taking branches
and producing a fairly
unpleasant barrier for wild animals.
And bits of that vegetation and pollen
fell into the corpse's rib cage
as it became a skeleton.
The Solecki story, I think,
is a wonderful story.
I think there's enough detail
now in our understanding
to know that it isn't a correct story,
by any means.
But I think the idea of Neanderthals
caring for their dead,
of perhaps protecting them...
actually, that isn't that far,
in some ways, from what he said.
[Stewart] Ralph Solecki made
his Flower Burial discovery in 1960.
He planned to return the following year,
but he would never excavate
at Shanidar again.
[music turns eerie]
[male reporter 1] The Kurds are
undisputed masters of the mountains,
where the Iraqi tanks can't reach them.
[dramatic music playing]
[male reporter 2] This is not
the United States against Iraq.
[male soldier] Boom! There's a hit.
[male reporter 2] It's Iraq
against the world.
[male reporter 3] This is what regime
change looks like.
[crowd clamoring]
[male reporter 4] Saddam has gone.
[male reporter 5] Pummeled
by modern weaponry,
the cruel caliphate is now surrounded
by these troops.
[Emma] In the early 2010s,
because the situation
had substantially settled down...
[male reporter 6] The Islamic State
is meeting its end.
[Emma]...the Kurdish regional government
approached Professor Graeme Barker
to start new excavations at Shanidar Cave.
We weren't expecting to find
any Neanderthal remains,
and that wasn't the aim of the project,
it was to, kind of, enhance the work
that Solecki had done.
[Stewart] So, it came as a huge surprise
when, in 2018, the team discovered
the first Neanderthal skeleton
found anywhere
for over a quarter of a century.
[Emma] The first thing that really came up
was part of the skull,
which was incredibly exciting.
It was actually part of the eye socket.
And it has
very clear Neanderthal characteristics,
in that the brow ridge
in Neanderthals are much heavier.
And directly under that, was the left arm,
and the left arm was kind
of folded underneath,
sort of across the body,
and tucked under the head.
[Stewart] Modern dating placed it
amongst the oldest
of Solecki's discoveries.
[mysterious music playing]
[Emma] I think we find 75,000 years ago
quite hard to conceptualize.
If you think about
what we know about written history
can seem like a long time,
and that's a drop in the ocean
in terms of the history of our species.
[music intensifies]
When you think what's gone on
in the world in that time period,
Neanderthals have disappeared,
modern humans have colonized
the globe for good or ill.
[Graeme] Agriculture, cities, urbanism.
European colonialism.
[Graeme] The awfulness
of the 20th century.
[crowd clamoring]
[dramatic music intensifies, fades]
[muffled explosion]
[Graeme] Throughout all these events,
there he has sat...
[sad, mysterious music playing]
...or she, as flat as a pancake,
under a great mass of rocks.
And we come along,
against all odds, and find it.
[music continues]
[Graeme] It's certainly
a generational find.
Completely out of the blue.
[music fades]
The skull itself was very heavily crushed.
So, actually, the entire skull
was crushed flat
and was probably two,
three centimeters thick.
Very fragmented.
And very delicate.
Even a brush stroke can make things
crumble and almost disappear.
So you have to proceed so carefully.
[man] What is that piece?
[Emma] That's the front of the mandible,
and most of the lower teeth,
but not quite all of them.
We removed it in small sections
with all of the sediment
to help keep it together.
It is very painstaking,
and that's for good reason.
You get one go.
Archaeology is,
by its very nature, destructive.
Once you've excavated it,
you can't do it again.
Those little packages
were then all brought back to the UK,
so that we can put them back together.
[church bells in distance]
[tense music playing]
[Emma] We have a small team,
but it's a great team.
People come from all over the world.
[woman] After cleaning
and strengthening the bones,
then I had the pieces,
and I could start to do the restoration,
which is a big jigsaw.
So, the first fragment
is like the easy part.
And then it gets more complicated.
You need patience,
because you have
a very unique specimen in your hands.
It's a lot of responsibility.
[Stewart] If the skull can be reassembled,
then the team hope
to reconstruct the face of Shanidar Z.
And another part of the skull
contains yet more clues.
[woman] Today I've been collecting
the dental calculus
that has formed on the teeth
of the Shanidar Z individual.
Dental calculus is
an incrustation on your teeth.
It's what your dentist goes
to remove once a year.
It forms naturally in your mouth,
and as it forms, it traps everything
that ends up in your mouth.
So, we're able to get a lot
of information out of this material.
[mysterious, evocative music playing]
[Amanda] There is sort
of this persistent narrative
that Neanderthals were high-level hunters,
who ate meat, meat, with meat on the side.
[wildlife noises]
[Amanda] It's only been in the last 10
to 20 years that we've come to recognize
that Neanderthals
did actually also consume plants.
Knowing how to turn something
that is poisonous when raw
into something
that is nutritious and edible,
it is something
that you have to learn over a lifetime.
And if we take
modern foragers as our example,
then the people who specialized
in gathering knowledge
were probably women.
By reconstructing
what kinds of plants Neanderthals ate,
we might be getting a window
into the role of women in their society.
We'll never know their whole story,
we'll never know their name,
their hopes and dreams.
But it's fascinating
to be involved in a project
where you're bringing even just
a tiny sliver of their life visible again.
And you do wonder, "Who is this person?"
"What were they like?
What's their life story?"
"How did they come to be here?"
I find it very hard to translate
from what a skull looks like to what
that person would have looked like.
That's where the remarkable skills
of people
like the Kennis brothers come in.
[amusing music playing]
Here we have the skull that Emma,
the data Emma, sent us.
We've got an almost complete skull,
nice complete skull, and it's printed out.
- So now we can see him.
- Wow.
Who are the Kennis brothers?
The Kennis brothers are two twins
who are fascinated by human evolution.
Let's see, look at this nose.
It looks a very Neanderthal-like nose,
but what we see is
that the other side of the nose
is very narrow.
[Adrie] We reconstruct
ancient extinct humans.
We try to show people
how maybe the early ancestors
would look like in real life.
- Big eyes, tall face, small nose.
- Big eye, yeah.
You know, like... spectacles, you know,
these enormous, big spectacles like...
If you put the mandible below it,
it looks like... uh...
[Adrie] We were very bad at school.
We didn't read much.
We went to the library, and we saw
some beautiful pictures of Neanderthals.
We see immediately those worn-down teeth,
mamma mia!
- [Alfons] Incredible teeth.
- [Adrie] Typical Neanderthal.
- They use their teeth like a vice. Yeah.
- [Alfons] Vice. Like a tool.
[Adrie] That, we find fascinating.
How a face, an ape face,
could morph into a human face.
[gentle uplifting music playing]
[Adrie] For us, what's fascinating
about Neanderthals is,
they've got an enormous, big nose,
an enormous puffy face.
Never in human evolution
did you see such a big, strange face.
So that's fantastic to see.
[music continues]
[Alfons] So, mostly we get skulls.
Mostly the skulls are distorted.
We're gonna correct the skulls.
We're going to make them
complete with forensic methods.
When the skull is complete,
then we apply the tissue thickness,
the muscles on it and the flesh.
We fill it up with a kind of skin layer.
I want to make them human-like,
not too brutish, human-like,
but not too clich.
[Adrie] Yeah, you can come.
[Alfons] I hope that a lot of people
look at this face
and maybe look at how strange it is.
They had such peculiar features.
And that's so striking
because the brain size is same as us.
They are as human as us,
but still there are differences,
and that's fascinating,
why are they different?
It's such a kind
of parallel evolution with us.
- [Alfons] All right.
- [Adrie] Yeah, all right. Okay.
[Alfons] And why did one disappear,
and why is one still alive?
That's fascinating. That's the other us.
[mysterious music playing]
[Stewart] Historically, these "other us"
were thought to be
not as smart as our own species.
Only Homo Sapiens are capable
of imagination, creativity, invention.
But this prejudice has been shattered
by what was found inside a secret
and truly extraordinary French cave.
[adventurous music playing]
[woman] First, we go
into this very narrow space.
You have to be really careful
how you enter in it.
Push your bag in front of you.
[music peaks, fades]
There you enter another world.
[ethereal music playing]
[man in French] It is really unnatural
to go into the caves.
These are places that people fear.
And especially
to the very bottom of the caves.
[music fades]
The cave has been there
for a very long time.
A million years, probably.
So that's also something that you feel
when you enter there.
A kind of environment
that knew already a very long history.
When you go a bit further,
you have these nice very calm lakes.
The cave is shaped by water
dripping in and forming
these very nice stalagmites, stalactites.
What's really interesting...
you see that
there is really a kind of pattern.
These are forming circles.
This is not something
you would see in a natural cave.
[man in French] It's very constructed.
We understood
that there were architectural tricks.
Small elements to wedge
the large stalagmites.
All of this is completely structured
and thought out.
For an archaeologist, it's quite unique.
There is no other equivalent to it.
[Sophie in English] In the biggest
circular structure there,
we have really a very nice hearth
made by stalagmites.
[in French] Here we have a thermal
alteration, but it's not the only one.
We have quite a few...
- Here we agree, that's the hearth.
- It's the hearth.
[Sophie] It's the hearth.
So we have several places here
where a fire was present at some point.
Number 38,
along the middle.
[Sophie in English] It's a bit like
what we'd do when we camp,
and we would take wood and make a hearth,
like, in a teepee form,
like a point form.
[in French] This is very exciting
because we can see traces of soot,
thermal alterations.
There is very black soot,
it's red, it's purple.
Obviously, in all traditional
or prehistoric populations,
we know that fire has a symbolic value.
[mysterious music playing]
[Sophie in English] We find on the ground
very small pieces of burnt wood.
So probably,
they come in the cave with torches.
If you are in the middle of the cave
without light,
it's really dangerous.
So, you need to communicate very well.
You need to master very well the fire,
the lighting.
So, the first idea was
to date these structures.
So, these are the cores
of the Bruniquel Cave,
and these cores tell us
really the age of these structures.
By studying six different cores,
we could come to a very precise age
of 176,500 years,
and this was really incredible, in fact.
[in French] One hundred
seventy-five thousand years ago in Europe,
there were only Neanderthals.
Bruniquel is the oldest construction
in the world that you can see.
[Sophie in English] It's very emotional
when you see these structures,
and, especially, when you know
that they are so old.
[Jacques in French] The recurring question
that keeps coming back is,
"What are the structures for?"
[Sophie in English] The circle
seems to be the world.
So, you are inside the world,
outside the world, these kind of concepts.
With Native Americans,
where you have these circles,
people are in connection
with higher spirits.
Is it the start of the religion?
This is a crucial question,
but which is really difficult to answer.
[Jacques in French] So more and more,
we tend to see in Neanderthals
a much older humanity,
which shares with modern man
more and more things in common.
And therefore with Bruniquel,
we increased this relationship
we have with an ancestor who is very old.
[Stewart in English] The enigmatic circles
at Bruniquel are a wonderful part
of the ongoing reappraisal
of Neanderthal culture...
that began at Shanidar,
and which continues to this day.
[Emma] This year,
we found a few isolated bits
of what we think
could be a single skeleton.
We might have found another individual.
There's the left shoulder blades.
There's also a reasonably
complete right hand.
What we've actually found is four fingers,
more or less, in the place
they'd be in the body.
So, what we'd call articulated.
[Stewart] The new remains
are amongst a cluster of bodies
that include
both Shanidar 4 and Shanidar Z.
[Emma] That's really exciting
because what it is
is evidence of Neanderthals
placing their dead
in this one particular spot.
Are they perhaps coming back
to that same spot on multiple occasions,
which could be decades
or maybe thousands of years apart?
So you start to ask,
"Is it just a coincidence, or is this
potentially something intentional?"
And if so, then, why?
And what's bringing them back there?
[mysterious, dramatic music playing]
[Emma] When Shanidar Z was buried,
there was a stone behind the skull.
And that is interesting
because it seems rather out of place.
And so an idea
we've been thinking about is,
could this be something
that's been put there intentionally?
Another thing that's interesting is that,
on the other side of the body,
you've got the big vertical slab.
Clearly, if you've got big vertical
slabs sticking up out of the ground,
there is a possibility that
that could act as some kind of marker.
So, it seems that certain individuals
were buried here,
and they're coming back
for that very reason,
and to this one spot, that's marked
by this very distinctive stone,
in what is a very distinctive cave.
[Graeme] It looks more
and more as Ralph Solecki
first found that Shanidar Cave
was a special place for Neanderthals.
They are placing bodies.
They're in a world,
in which they are coming back here
regularly and living here.
[Stewart] The cluster of remains
are perhaps evidence
of a Neanderthal burial ground,
a discovery with deep implications.
[Emma] How people treat the dead
can give us really important insights
into thinking, imagination, emotion.
It perhaps also reflects
how we think about death itself,
and whether, for example, we believe
that there might be an afterlife.
[Graeme] It's part of a rising sense
of the complexity of Neanderthal culture.
But they're not here now.
[Stewart] The burials are just
the latest traces of Neanderthal behavior
preserved inside this remarkable cave.
Yet, perhaps, the biggest mystery remains.
Why did a form of humanity,
that thrived for 300,000 years, disappear
forty-thousand years ago?
Perhaps the best place
to search for answers
lies on the shores
of the Mediterranean Sea
at one of the final strongholds
of the Neanderthals.
[man] Well, we're sitting
on the edge of a cliff.
Very close to, what a friend called,
Neanderthal City...
because it's a whole row of caves
on the waterfront,
on the east side of the Rock of Gibraltar.
The Gorham's Cave complex
is a series of caves,
and all these caves show
very clear evidence
of Neanderthal presence
and occupation over a long period of time.
We have evidence going back
to at least 125,000 years ago.
[Stewart] The team have unearthed evidence
that Neanderthals were using the caves
as recently as 40,000 years ago.
[Clive] Over the last 100,000 years
of their existence,
the world of the Neanderthals
was constantly changing.
[thunder rumbling]
[Clive] The climatic changes were brutal.
They had been earlier ice ages,
but the last one, arguably,
was the worst one in terms of impact.
The Scandinavian ice sheet
really spread south.
France and Central Europe
were little more than steppe-tundra.
It really was a very harsh world.
The tundra didn't reach this far south,
but there were still obvious changes.
When conditions get very cold,
a lot of water is trapped as ice,
in ice sheets, in glaciers,
and the sea level drops.
[woman] When the sea level was lower
than it is today,
that would have exposed a large plain
where all these herbivores
would have been living,
where the birds would have been living,
where there would have been
shallow lakes with fresh water.
They would have known exactly
which species they could consume,
where to find them,
and how to best use them.
These are just
a very small sample of all the bones,
and all the remains
that we've found in the caves.
We've got tens of thousands of artifacts
that we found in the last 30 years.
They're eating animals
that are not expected,
and not normally associated,
with Neanderthals.
We have evidence that they were going down
to the rocky shoreline
and picking limpets.
And, in fact, I've got a limpet here,
which has still got a flint tool
stuck on to it.
So, it's where the Neanderthal left it.
But then we get this particular bone,
which comes from a common dolphin,
and it's got cut marks on it.
Maybe the dolphin was dead already
on the shore, but they defleshed it.
They removed the flesh to consume it.
The Neanderthals thrived in Europe
for longer than we have been around.
That's for sure.
To me, that says that they're intelligent,
and that they understand
their environment.
In that sense,
they were extremely successful.
[Clive] The Neanderthals were human.
They were resilient.
They were very much like us.
But, one day, it all came to an end.
[Stewart] Which deepens the mystery
of their disappearance.
After all, if the Gibraltar Neanderthals
were so resilient for so long,
what on earth went wrong?
[Clive] People associate the Ice Age
with getting cold, which of course it did,
but it also got dryer.
The change that hit
these Neanderthals in Gibraltar,
in my view, was one
of a world of trees disappearing.
You have trees,
and why are those significant?
Because they allow you
to ambush hunt large prey.
Through time, their whole physique
had become that
of a wrestler-type build, if you like,
capable of jumping on top
of these animals with spears,
thrusting spears
and killing those animals.
Suddenly, that world becomes
an open landscape.
The animals see you coming
a mile away. You can't get near them.
When the change came,
it was so rapid that their biology
couldn't change at that speed.
And that's what hit them.
We think that we are
the pinnacle of evolution,
that's the way
we've always painted ourselves.
Even with respect to the Neanderthals,
we're here, and they're not,
because we were better than they were. Um...
But you can be very highly adapted,
you can do very well on a planet,
like, we'd argue,
perhaps we're doing today.
And yet, the story tells us
that there are other ways of being human,
and those ways can sometimes fail.
We might think we're doing
very well on this planet,
but just be aware.
[Stewart] By around 40,000 years ago,
Neanderthal numbers were in free fall.
Not just in Gibraltar,
but across their entire world.
Climate change
was a factor in their decline.
But so too, was increasing competition
from another species.
To this day, all of us carry
a tiny bit of Neanderthal DNA.
A legacy of our long-lost ancestors.
For at least 100,000 years,
waves of Homo Sapiens
had spread from Africa
into Europe and Asia,
encountering Neanderthals
as they traveled.
[wildlife noises]
[tense music playing]
[Stewart] Some of these encounters
may have been violent.
[speaks Neanderthal]
[music peaks, fades]
[panting gently]
[Stewart] But some, presumably,
were more peaceful.
One group of people recognizing
the humanity of the other.
The path of these epic journeys
would have taken
Homo Sapiens through the Middle East.
Close to the ancestral burial ground
of the Shanidar Neanderthals.
[evocative music playing]
[Abdulwahab in Kurdish] Neanderthal genes
are present inside many Homo Sapiens.
And I do really believe
that we are cousins.
We are of the same blood.
We have the same ancestors.
[Emma] One of the things that I find
so fascinating about archaeology
is that diversity of ways of being human.
Looking at how people's skeletons are,
can tell us about their lives
and their experience of the world.
While excavating Shanidar Z,
we could see certain characteristics
that suggested that they're an adult,
but we didn't know
how old they were when they died,
we didn't know
whether they were male or female,
and we didn't know
a great deal either about their life.
So a lot of those kinds of questions
of what we are working on answering now.
What we've got here is the left radius.
So, this is one of the forearm bones.
We can tell already that this was
a relatively small individual,
between about one and a half,
or 1.55 meter to 1.60 meter tall.
That's just over five foot essentially.
Here we've got part of the lower jaw,
the mandible, with some of the teeth.
An important thing to notice,
is that actually many of these teeth,
especially the front teeth here,
are all extremely worn down.
That's the enamel,
that's completely worn off,
all of these teeth.
Certainly, we know that
for a Neanderthal with teeth this worn,
they had to be an older individual,
probably somewhere
between about 40 and 50.
There are ways that we can tell the sex
of the individual from the skeleton.
What we did was use a technique
called proteomics,
which is where you analyze
some of the proteins
in the enamel of the tooth,
because we know that there's
a particular protein that's produced,
while that enamel's forming,
that has a different version
that's encoded by
what's on the X chromosome
compared to what's on the Y chromosome.
So, that indicates very strongly to us
that this is a female individual.
Quite often,
we think of Neanderthals as males,
or we tend to focus on aspects
of male behavior.
This is a really exciting opportunity
to understand Neanderthal society
more completely.
I think to have an actual reconstruction
of what this Neanderthal woman
might have looked like
during life will be incredibly exciting.
- Well, Doctor Pomeroy.
- Let's find out. [chuckles]
- We have one already prepared.
- Hmm.
I'm gonna start from this.
- [Emma] Oh, wow.
- [Graeme] Wow.
- Well.
- [Graeme] Well.
[chuckles] Amazing, we should turn
her round, so that everyone else can see.
Wow. [chuckles]
She's looking at me.
[Emma] Yeah, she is. You've probably spent
the most time with her, so... [chuckles]
- Also, you remember the nose and...
- Yeah.
- It's amazing.
- [Emma] Yeah.
It's interesting
how they've done her expression,
I mean the emotions
that are wrapped into it.
I think that's the beauty
of these kinds of reconstructions,
is that some people are somewhat critical,
and say, "We can never know
what people looked like."
There's various assumptions
we have to make, and that's very true,
but... I think it does give you
a sense of her as a person.
[Luca] Hmm.
[Graeme] She gets to the heart,
doesn't she, of what it means to be human.
What it might have meant
to be human Neanderthal.
Somehow, you do get something of the...
I don't know,
of a deep life history to this person.
[Chris] It's the older people,
with their knowledge, their experience,
who would have known
where the good places were.
That memory, whether it was
only within her head,
or whether it was something
that was in her head,
that she was sharing
through songs and stories
with children and grandchildren,
would have been
absolutely vital to the group.
In many ways, that was the beginning
of civilization in a much more real sense
than the first time
somebody built a building,
or anything like that.
[Emma] She likely had that, kind of,
role of a repository of knowledge
and had a major role in passing on
that knowledge to the next generation.
And here we are, 75,000 years later,
learning from her, still.
[dramatic, evocative music playing]
[Emma] Shanidar Cave has taught us
a huge amount about Neanderthals,
and it still is teaching us.
But also, it's made us reflect on
what does it mean to be human?
[birds chirping]
Things like, having compassion
for one another.
How we deal with death.
And what's inevitably going to happen
to all of us.
[music continues]
[Emma] Right now,
we're getting a snapshot,
and it's amazing and rich,
but we certainly don't have
the whole picture,
and there's much more there
to be discovered
about what we understand
"being human" and "humanity" to be.
[music peaks]
[music fades]
[gentle, ethereal music playing]