The sand sheets in the rampant dunes above the Catalan Bay in Gibraltar are a relic of the last glaciation, when the sea level was up to 120 meters below the present levels and a great field of dunes extending eastwards from the rock base. Several vertebrate footprints have been found at the site over the years, now the list also includes a track left by a Neanderthal.
The international journal Quaternary Science Reviews has just published a paper that involves the participation of Gibraltarian scientists from the The Gibraltar National Museum along with colleagues from Spain, Portugal and Japan. The results that have been published are from the area of the Catalan Bay Sand Dune.
The place where the Neanderthal footprint was found. (Universdad de Sevilla)
10 Years of Work
This work began ten years ago, when the first dates using the OSL method were obtained. It was then that the first traces of footprints left by the vertebrates were found. In subsequent years, the subsequent natural collapse of sand has revealed further material and has allowed a detailed study including new dates.
The identified footprints correspond to the species that are known from fossil material, which has inhabited Gibraltar. They correspond to Red Deer, Ibex, Aurochs, Leopard, and Straight-Elephants. In addition, the scientists have found footprint of a young human (106-126 cm (3.5-4.1 feet) in height), possibly a Neanderthal, which dates back to about 29,000 years ago. It would coincide with the late Neanderthal dates from Gorham's Cave.
View of Gorham's Cave, a sea cave in the east face of the Rock of Gibraltar, Gibraltar. (Gibmetal77 / CC BY 3.0)
Only the Second Example of the Neanderthal Footprints in the World
If it was confirmed to be a Neanderthal, these dunes would become only the second site in the world with footprints attributed to these humans, the other being Take the Cave in Romania. These findings add further international significance to the Gibraltar Pleistocene heritage, declared World Heritage Value in 2016.
The research was supported by the HM Government of Gibraltar under the Gibraltar Caves Project and the annual excavations in the Gibraltar Caves with additional support to the external scientists from the Spanish EU project MICINN-FEDER: CGL2010-15810 / BTE.
Neanderthal engraving in Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar. (AquilaGib / CC BY SA 4.0)
Minister for Heritage John Cortes MP commented:
"This is an extraordinary research and gives us an incredible insight into the wildlife community of Gibraltar's past. We should take a moment To imagine the scene when these animals walked across our landscape. It helps us to understand the importance of looking after our heritage. I congratulate the research team on uncovering this fascinating, hidden evidence of our Rock's past. "
Top Image: Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) footprint in the Natural History Museum in Prague. Source: Claire H. / CC BY SA 2.0
The article, originally titled 'Neanderthal footprints found in Gibraltar', was first published on Science Daily.
Source: University of Seville. "Neanderthal footprints found in Gibraltar." ScienceDaily ScienceDaily
Fernando Muñiz, Luis M. Cáceres, Joaquín Rodríguez-Vidal, Carlos Neto de Carvalho, João Belo, Clive Finlayson, Geraldine Finlayson, Stewart Finlayson, Tatiana Izquierdo, Manuel Abad, Francisco J. Jiménez- Espejo, Saiko Sugisaki, Paula Gómez, Francisco Ruiz. ' Following the last Neanderthals: Mammal tracks in the Late Pleistocene coastal dunes of Gibraltar (S Iberian Peninsula) .' Quaternary Science Reviews 2019; DOI: 10.1016 / j.quascirev.2019.01.013