Neanderthals are long gone – or another way of looking at it is that they live inside of us (because most of us are 1-4% Neanderthals). There’s a lot to learn about our big-boned, thick-browed cousins. We know that they had a small population, that they were human and inbred. But there is still much to learn and new discoveries are constantly being made – along with our other cousins the Denisovans.
So, for those who would like to know more about our mysterious cousins, two key locations are Gibraltar (where the first skull was discovered) and Germany (where they were first discovered and described).
Neanderthals are an extinct species (or subspecies) of archaic humans who lived in Europe and parts of western Asia. After the arrival of modern humans, they quickly disappeared. The exact reason is still up for debate, but it can include being overwhelmed, being elevated into extinction, climate change, disease, conflict, and reasons.
- Divide: Their line split 315,000 to over 800,000 years ago
- Fossils: Neanderthals are known from many fossils – especially after 130,000 years ago
They were more robust than modern humans with shorter limbs. They had adaptations for living in a cold climate and the average Neanderthal man was around 165cm or 5ft 5in tall while females were 153cm at 5ft 2in tall.
There is no evidence that they were less intelligent than modern humans and their brains were about the same size. Their total population was low and they accumulated weakly harmful genes through inbreeding. About 80% died before they reached 40.
Gorham’s Cave Complex World Heritage Site
It’s crazy that one of the best sites for Neanderthals is the small and densely populated Rock of Gibraltar. Almost every square inch of this land has been dug out and turned into a formidable fort. And yet, somehow, the Gorham’s Cave Complex survived and covers an area of 28 hectares east of Gibraltar.
It has been listed by UNESCO for its outstanding testimony to the occupation, cultural traditions and material culture of Neanderthals as well as modern humans. The period spans 120,000 years.
Gibraltar is known to have had a long association with Neanderthals. In fact, the first complete skull of Neanderthals was discovered here – 8 years before the famous remains in Germany in the Neander Valley. However, they were described from the Neander Valley site. Another skull (called Devil’s Tower Child) was found in Gibraltar in 1926.
- Last name: From the Discovery Site – The Neander Valley
- Skulls: First skull discovered in 1848, second skull discovered in 1926
It is now believed that Gibraltar was one of the last refuges of Neanderthals around 32,000 years ago. There is also evidence of complex social behaviors as well as their clothing on the site. Moreover, there is even evidence of rock carvings carved by Neanderthals in Gorham’s Cave that indicate they had the ability to think abstractly.
Today you may not be able to enter the caves, but much of Gibraltar is part of the UNESCO site and you can walk all around the Rock. There is also viewing platform where you can see the cliffs where the caves are located. Gibraltar may be tiny, but it’s packed with things to see and is one of the weirdest places in Europe – also the only place with wild monkeys in Europe.
- Opening hours: 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily (from Gibraltar Reserve/UNSECO site)
Point: Beware of macaque monkeys – they’ll think your backpack is synonymous with food
Neanderthal Museum in Germany
A short distance from the famous Neander Valley, where the first recognized Neanderthals were discovered, is the Neanderthal Museum. It is one of the best museums to tell the story of man. The Neanderthal Museum tells the story of mankind from its beginnings in the African savannah more than 4 million years ago until today.
The exhibits vividly transmit the latest research and discoveries of archeology and paleoanthropology. In London, two of the best museums to discover the history of humanity are the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.
- Address: Neanderthal Museum, Talstraße 300, 40822 Mettmann
- Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Days: Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Monday)
- Admission: Adults 11:00 € ($13), Children (6-16 years old) 6.50 € ($7)
The Neander Valley Cave where Neanderthals were discovered in 1856 was destroyed due to quarrying (quarry workers found the bones). The name of the cave is Feldhofer Cave and a park has now been created on the site.
- Distance: The Feldhofer cave is only 400 meters from the museum
- Opening hours of the discovery site: March to October: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. | November to February: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Next: What to expect when visiting the amazing Mammoth Cave National Park