SHANIDAR: The First Flower People by Ralph S. Solecki

SHANIDAR: The First Flower People

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The last decade has done much to restore Neanderthal man to the ranks of humanity -- a benign good fellow who may have become extinct, may or may not have been a sub-race of Homo sapiens, and so on, but at least from the evidence seems to have possessed the ""full gamut of human feelings, from belligerence to love and compassion."" The extraordinary finds of Solecki at Shanidar Cave in Iraq enhance this image. A paleobotanist examining the soil residue in an area where Neanderthal skeletons were found (the first in this part of the world) revealed the startling fact that a variety of flowers were found also; from their distribution and position the implication was that they had been laid there deliberately as a funeral offering. Thus the First Flower People of Solecki's subtitle. The story of the dig at Shanidar and its rich repository of remains is told in this short excellent work, scholarly in its approach and modest in the presentation. The cave, a large shelter that has been occupied on and off over a period of 100,000 years, makes a fascinating raise en scene. For while Solecki and his colleagues were digging, the cave was occupied by families of Kurds who take shelter for a few months of the year along with their horses, goats, dogs, and chickens. The interactions of the two groups are not without their comic value but on the whole the Kurds remain mysterious -- Solecki sounds almost like a 19th century writer describing these wild mountain people living in isolated valleys, fierce, brave, etc. Indeed the fascinating counterpoint of modern Kurd and ancient Neanderthal runs through the book as a subtle background theme. In the end it would seem that the mystery of the modern Kurd is only mildly surpassed by the long dead inhabitants of that same terrain.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1971
Publisher: Knopf