Cave Chamber Sealed for 40,000 Years Could Provide Insight to Neanderthals

Researchers investigating a cave complex in Gibraltar, a British territory at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, have discovered a thus-sealed chamber that could provide scientific insight to paleolithic Europe and Neanderthals, a cousin of humanity that went extinct tens of thousands of years ago.

A team led by Prof. Clive Finlayson, an evolutionary biologist of the Gibraltar National Museum, discovered the chamber last month while researching Vanguard Cave in Gibraltar’s Gorham Cave Complex. A hole in sediment was widened to create a crawlspace, leading to a 13-meter space with evidence of previous hominid habitation. Remains of paleolithic animals such as lynx, vulture and hyenas, which inhabited southern Europe in prehistory, have been found in the cave, with researchers believing Neanderthals lived there more than 40,000 years ago.

It’s quite a chamber,” Finlayson told the Guardian.In a way, it’s almost like discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun; you’re going into a space that no one’s been into for 40,000 years. It’s quite sobering, really.

Researchers are hoping to find additional sealed passages, with the possibility of a burial site that could potentially contain Neanderthal remains. Hearths and stone tools have been located in other areas of the Gorham Cave Complex, also believed to have been created by Neanderthals. The cousins to Homo sapiens, or modern humans, are believed to have the last species of humans to die out on Earth, although small populations of hominids may have died out in isolated islands as recently as 15,000 years ago.

These caves have been giving us a great deal of information about the behavior of these people,” said Finlayson of the find. “And, far from the old view of the brutish, ape-like beings, we’re realizing that in every respect they were human, and capable of most of the things that modern humans were capable of doing. We even know that they were interchanging genes.

One of the things that we’ve found on many levels of this cave is clear evidence of occupation – campfires and so on,” said Finlayson. “I’m speculating now, but what we haven’t found is where they buried their own. Since we’re speculating, a chamber at the back of a cave could be quite suggestive – it’s total speculation, but you’re not going to bury people in your kitchen or in your living room.

Neanderthals live on, in a sense, in modern humans- having contributed as much as 2% of the genetic makeup of some human populations through interbreeding.

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