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C334: Environmental Impacts on Neanderthal Extinction in Southwest Asia:Climate Reconstruction of Marine Isotope Stage 3 (57-29 ka) Based on Small Mammal Records from Shanidar Cave (Iraqi Kurdistan) (Lead Supervisor: Preston Miracle, Archaeology)

Supervisors: Preston Miracle (Archaeology), Graeme Barker (Archaeology) and Tamsin O'Connell (Archaeology)

Importance of the area of research:

Southwest Asia is a key region for studying the evolution, assimilation, and/or replacement of Neanderthals by Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) ca. 40-30 kya.  It lies on some of the assumed major routes of hominin dispersals out of Africa and was a likely stage for Neanderthal-AMH  interactions.  Although the significant climate fluctuations of MIS 3 (c.57-29 ka) have been promoted as a likely driving force behind Neanderthal extinction in Europe, we currently lack evidence to examine this hypothesis in Southwest Asia where there is a particular paucity of climate archives associated with human occupation sites.  Excavations at Shanidar Cave in the 1950-1960s exposed a sequence spanning MIS 5-2 and a number of extremely significant Neanderthal burials.  Knowledge of the environmental contexts in which these people lived and other aspects of their material culture and adaptations, is poor.  For these reasons Graeme Barker initiated new excavations at this key site in 2014. 

Project summary:

This project will use vertebrate microfauna to reconstruct palaeoecological conditions and how they changed over time in the Zagros Mountains (Iraqi Kurdistan) from MIS 5-2 (c. 110-25 ka).  New excavations at Shanidar Cave have produced a rich collection of microfauna. Archaeologically they span the Middle Palaeolithic period associated with Neanderthal burials and Upper Palaeolithic associated with Anatomically Modern Humans occupation.  The cave and its sequence thus provide a unique opportunity to examine changing human-environment relations during MIS 3 and test hypotheses regarding the impact of climate change on Neanderthal extinction.

What the student will do:

The PhD will involve formal zooarchaeological identification (including application of Geometric Morphometrics - GMM) of the species range (primarily rodents, but also bats, insectivores, and other small vertebrates).  Taphonomic analyses will be undertaken to infer the vectors of accumulation, and stable isotopes will be analyzed from major taxa represented through the entire stratigraphic sequence.  Comparisons will be made with other environmental proxies from Shanidar Cave (e.g. pollen, sedimentology, soil micromorphology, mollusca)  as well as to other faunal records in the region. 

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Belmaker, M., & Hovers, E., 2011. Ecological change and the extinction of the Levantine Neanderthals: implications from a diachronic study of micromammals from Amud Cave, Israel. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, pp. 3196-3209.

Frumkin, A., Bar-Yosef, O., and Schwartz, H.P., 2011.  Possible paleohydrologic and paleoclimatic effects on hominin migration and occupation of the Levantine Middle Paleolithic. Journal of Human Evolution 60, pp.437-451.

Solecki, R., 1971. Shanidar: the First Flower People.  New York: Knopf.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project


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