Scientists investigating a tunnel network deep below the Rock of Gibraltar, a monolithic limestone structure in the British territory of Gibraltar, have uncovered a chamber that hasn’t been seen in 40,000 years.
Around 40,000 years ago, sand blocked up this underground chamber. It was most likely utilized by Neanderthals.
The chamber, which is around 42 square feet in size, not only provides insight into a hitherto unknown part of the Earth, but it is also likely to have been frequented by Neanderthals. Perhaps they ate animal carcasses as well.
The discovery was just disclosed by the scientists, according to Gizmodo. In August of this year, the crew visited the Gibraltar cave network, also known as Gorham’s Cave complex, as part of a nine-year study to assess its real size.
The structure is intriguing since it is thought to represent one of Europe’s final Neanderthal habitations. The site is so significant for archaeology that it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The team was directed by Professor Clive Finlayson, an evolutionary biologist, and director of the Gibraltar National Museum.
Vanguard Cave entrance, Gibraltar’s Rock.
Finlayson told The Guardian that the chamber was discovered after his crew saw a breach in the silt in Vanguard Cave, one of the four caves that make up Gorham’s Cave complex (below).
Finlayson and the crew discovered they could crawl through the breach after enlarging it, eventually arriving at the long-lost location.
The scientists discovered a plethora of intriguing evidence of activity from what they assumed were bears and/or Neanderthals within the cave.
Finlayson and his crew discovered a lynx leg bone and spotted hyena vertebrae on the chamber’s floor. A huge wing bone from a griffon vulture was also discovered.
The discovery of a “dog whelk” shell, which could not have gone there from the ocean on its own, was particularly noteworthy.
The scientists found no incisions or traces on the bones that would indicate human influence, but the shell definitely implies human participation.
“That part of the cave is about [65 feet] above sea level now,” Finlayson told The Guardian. “Clearly someone got it up there sometime before 40,000 years ago.” He went on to say, “That’s already a sign that humans have been up there.”
What is the purpose of the chamber? It’s possible, according to the researchers, that it’s a Neanderthal burial place. Or, at the very least, a choice for a burial location for an extinct species of archaic human.
Finlayson told The Guardian that scientists have yet to discover where Neanderthals buried their dead in Gorham’s Cave complex. And it appears that the room is more of a “back of the cave” type of space.