January 23, 2018

Shanidar 1


The Shanidar Cave site, discovered in 1957, is known for having two Neanderthal skeletons. “Nandy” was an elderly male aged between 40-50 years, which was considerably old for a Neanderthal, the equivalent of 80 years old today. Nandy displayed trauma-related abnormalities, which in his case would have been debilitating to the point of making day-to-day life painful. At some point in his life he had suffered a violent blow to the left side of his face, creating a crushing fracture to his left orbit which would have left Nandy partially or totally blind in one eye. He also suffered from a withered right arm which had been fractured in several places and healed, but which caused the loss of his lower arm and hand. This is thought to be either congenital, a result of childhood disease and trauma or due to an amputation later in his life. The arm had healed but the injury may have caused some paralysis down his right side, leading to deformities in his lower legs and foot and would have resulted in him walking with a pronounced, painful limp. All these injuries were acquired long before death, showing extensive healing and this has been used to infer that Neanderthals looked after their sick and aged, denoting implicit group concern.  ~ excerpted from Wikipedia.

I just finished a primitive shelter building workshop applying Native American techniques, tools and spirituality. We were a mixed group of ten students of different ages, abilities and sex. We were a tribe for a few days.

In combining my recent tribal experience with the description of Nandy, what becomes clear is that all tasks are not suited to all people. Tasks are not one-size-fits-all. From the sounds of it, Nandy was physically useless, but, he must have been good for something – maybe wisdom.

Universal design seeks to make all things available to all people and to marginalize as few as possible. But to be a contrarian for a minute, maybe this approach seeks to be too much to too many and perhaps devalues or diminishes other human and tribal experiences. I do not want the cook to build my house, and, I do not want Nandy to concern himself with his independence, especially if his wisdom would be compromised. Perhaps it is more fitting that we look after our elders spending time with them as we do. Perhaps we might learn something that our busy lives can’t teach us.