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Calpeia: Meet the Woman who Lived in Gibraltar 7,500 Years Ago

Chris Gomez · Photos: Gibraltar National Museum

Calpeia: Meet the Woman who Lived in Gibraltar 7,500 Years Ago

Find out how this facial reconstruction was created here

In 1996, remains were uncovered during an excavation of an ancient burial site (in a cave) near Europa Point, Gibraltar by the Gibraltar National Museum and a team of archaeologists.

23 years later, thanks to advancements in technology, the Gibraltar Museum and museum Conservator Manuel Jaén, an archaeologist operating from San Roque, who together collaborated with Harvard Medical School, we now have an unbelievable forensic reconstruction of a woman who lived around 5,400 BC…

Gibraltar National Museum
Minister John Cortes unveils ‘Calpeia’ at the Gibraltar National Museum

To get an idea of time scale, this is 2,400 years before the pyramids were built, 3,500 years before the world’s oldest story, the “Epic of Gilgamesh” was set in stone and 3,000 years before Moses.

Meet Calpeia, the earliest known modern human to have lived on the Rock around 7,500 years ago. Her name refers to Mons Calpe, the ancient name given to Gibraltar, and she lived during the Neolithic period, also known as the ‘New Stone Age’, which was marked by developments in farming.

However, one of the most incredible findings lies within her DNA, which shows that her ancestral lineage goes back to Anatolia (now modern-day Turkey), with 90% of her genes being from Anatolia and 10% being local Mesolithic hunter gatherers… Meaning that her ancestors once travelled unbelievable distances, either quickly or over time, and then settled and mixed with the local Iberian populations.

Calpeia 7500 ancestors Anatolia Gibraltar
‘Calpeia’: Meet the Gibraltar ian Woman From 7,500 Years Ago

To add to the general sense of mystery and if we want our imagination to run riot, we may also remember that Anatolia is where Noah’s Arc came to rest after the Flood on Mount Ararat…

How and why did an Anatolian, 3,751 kilometres away from the Rock, end up living and being buried in Gibraltar. We spoke to Dr. Geraldine Finlayson, Managing Director and Director of Heritage and Environmental Services at the Gibraltar National Museum.

Since the DNA is 90% Anatolian and 10% local, does it mean that she would have belonged to a long-established tribe of Anatolians who lived in this region with only a small amount of interbreeding with other communities? Does the 10% suggest that the local element would have been from local great grandparents?

“Yes, we think we are looking at someone who was probably born in Gibraltar, but whose immediate ancestors were from Anatolia. However, the evidence seems to suggest that their arrival in this part of this world was quite quick, and that they admixed with the local populations very quickly.”

Is there any evidence as to how her ancestors travelled such a distance?

“We know, from genetic evidence, that there appears to be a substantial arrival of populations of Anatolian origin, however, there appears to be no archaeological evidence of this. We know from other evidence that she was probably associated with people who fished, so they may have had boats, but it’s difficult to say with any certainty at this stage. This is very much a work in progress.”

Could there be any reasons as to why they travelled here?

Calpeia 7500 ancestors Anatolia Gibraltar

“That is an interesting question that still needs to be answered. However, we know that at this time people had discovered agriculture, and were spreading across the Mediterranean, including into Malta. Agriculture gave people the ability to have a reliable source of food, and there may have been a population expansion as a result which would have added pressure to move further afield to new pastures (if you pardon the pun!!). But I’m cautious when it comes to speculation”.

Was the geography of Gibraltar 7,500 years ago the same as it is now?

Pleistocene Gibraltar Savanna

“Gibraltar was very similar to what it looks like today 7,500 years ago. By then the main sea level rises which happened at the beginning of the Holocene had almost reached the approximate levels that we have today. However, it is very likely that Gibraltar was an island at that time, as the isthmus had not yet formed, and Gibraltar was separated from the mainland by shallow water. Winds from the east and south-west accumulated sand, gradually forming a sand spit. The northern end of the spit is the older part, dating to about 3,000 years ago, while the south end closest to the Rock is about 1,000 years old.”

Do we know how tall Calpeia was?

“Not yet. We are working on that. However, judging from her skull size, it is likely that she was not very tall – in fact her skull is very petite, for a woman her age”, (she is estimated to have been between 30 and 40 years old) Dr. Finlayson concluded.

How it was Made: The Facial Reconstruction of Calpeia

Skull of Calpeia

“Through Forensic data, & the key word is ‘forensic’, we have created Calpeia” – Geraldine Finlayson | Calpeia was petite, light-skinned, had dark eyes and hair and was lactose intolerant…

Calpeia: Meet the Woman who Lived in Gibraltar 7,500 Years Ago

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