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Natalie Wilson PhD: Prehistoric Gibraltar

Natalie Wilson – University of Gibraltar

Gibraltar is unrivalled as an area of scientific and historical significance. In 1848, the skull of an adult Neanderthal was discovered at Gibraltar’s Forbes’ Quarry, 8 years before the species holotype was uncovered in Germany. Another Neanderthal skull, that of a child, was found in 1926 at Devil’s Tower.

When both sites became too dangerous to explore further, research proceeded at Gorham’s Cave on the south-eastern side of the rock under Archaeologist John D’Arcy Waechter (1947 to 1954).

Gorhams Cave @Gibraltar National Museum

The caves of Gorham’s Cave complex have been excavated repeatedly since the 1990s as part of the Gibraltar Caves Project. Whilst archaeologists have not yet found Neanderthal remains within Gorham’s Cave itself, a Neanderthal tooth was found just next door in Vanguard Cave in 2017.

There is other evidence of Neanderthal occupation in Gorham’s Cave regardless, in the form of Mousterian tools, cut-marked and burnt animal bone, and of course, the Neanderthal hashtag. Both caves have produced many large and small mammal remains.

Several studies have focused specifically on the birds, reptiles, small mammals, and marine animals of Gibraltar. In-depth studies on large, ancient mammals however are somewhat lacking.

Natalie Wilson, PhD Student at the University of Gibraltar

Excavations of Gibraltar’s caves have nevertheless yielded numerous skeletal remains of large mammals dating to the time of the Neanderthals.

These include narrow-nosed rhinoceros (now extinct), brown bear, spotted hyena, leopard, Iberian lynx, wildcat, wild boar, red deer, Spanish ibex, aurochs, horse, Mediterranean monk seal, and even two species of dolphin. Many large herbivore bones from Gorham’s Cave show signs of digestion, or cut marks indicative of butchery by humans.

Iberian Lynx

Archaeological evidence has shown that humans and animals have used Gibraltar’s caves continuously, from prehistory to present, including as loci for cult activity. However, the animals of Phoenician Gibraltar have until now gone unstudied. This has certainly led to gaps in our knowledge.

The Phoenicians have been credited with the introduction of several dog breeds to Europe, including sheep dogs and hounds, but we are unsure at present how this affected Gibraltar.


Similarly, whilst it is recognised that the domestication of pigs began in the Near East, the spread of such around southern Europe is unknown.

Undoubtedly, there is much to add to the story of human and animal interaction over time, and Gibraltar may hold the answers.

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