Archaeologist Chris Hunt has published new evidence to suggest that Neanderthal man enacted burial rituals.

But his findings have demolished a famous theory that early Man buried their dead with flowers.

New research published on Monday (August 28, 2023) in the Journal of Archaeological Science presents new evidence around the ground-breaking Neanderthal site at Shanidar in Iraq, where the ‘flower burial’ theory was conceived.

Buried in a partial foetal position and surrounded by flower pollen, the discovery of Shanidar 4 – a Neanderthal skeleton unearthed in 1960 – prompted a dramatic reappraisal of our ancient cousins.

The Shanidar flower burial, as it became known, painted a picture of Neanderthals as empathic beings who cared enough for their dead to scour the mountains for funeral bouquets. Now, fresh evidence suggests this interpretation may have been incorrect – although Neanderthals may still have had strong funerary rituals.

Neanderthals are estimated to have died out 45,000 years ago and few physical remains of them have survived.

“Although the evidence was subsequently questioned, the story was spectacular enough that it is still found in most archaeology textbooks,” said Prof Chris Hunt at Liverpool John Moores University, who also credits it with inspiring him to pursue a career in environmental archaeology.

Now Hunt and his colleagues have discovered new bodies and have dismissed the presence of pollen as the work of bees.

However, they have also suggested the position and timing of the ‘burials’ indicate that these early humans returned time and again to bury their dead.