Landmark Discovery As Archaeologists Unearth Neanderthal Tooth.
Archaeologists working in Gibraltar’s world heritage site have discovered the milk tooth of a Neanderthal child who may have been devoured by hyenas over 50,000 years ago.
The upper right canine milk tooth was found in Vanguard Cave and researchers believe it belonged to a four or five-year old Neanderthal. Although the Gorham’s complex has produced archaeological and paleontological evidence of Neanderthal occupation spanning more than 100,000 years, it has never before yielded Neanderthal remains.
The tooth was found during laboratory work on Monday by Miriam Napper, from Liverpool John Moores University, and Lucia Castagna, from Bologna University, and was confirmed by Neanderthal teeth experts as being human. “The features are Neanderthal and the context, in a level dated to 51,000 years ago, makes it Neanderthal,” Prof Finlayson said. “It cannot be anything else.”
The excavation was led by Dr Jennings who has been coming to Gibraltar to work on the caves for the past 20 years and this was the second year running he brought students from John Moore’s University with him, including Miss Napper. The student is set to enter her third year of Forensic Anthropology at John Moore’s University and took the Chronicle through the process of how she discovered the tooth.
“When we get the sediment we have to rinse it to get the debris off of it and once all the particles are left we leave them outside to dry out, they are left in silk type bags for protection and left overnight,” she said. “As myself and Lucia [a fellow student], opened it up I noticed this tooth and at first my heart dropped and I thought this can’t be. I was in such doubt I asked Lucia. She said ‘I think that is human’.”
Speaking about her initial reaction to the find, Miss Napper said: “I obviously had my speculations but did not think it would be what I thought it was. Because right before I came to the cave they told me how they do not find things actually Neanderthal, it’s all animal bones, and it’s more about the environment of the cave.”
For the third year of her course Ms Napper is set to write about the experience of excavating in Vanguard’s Cave. She now has a completely new unexpected element to add to that piece. Also helping on the excavation is Lucia Castagna, who recently finished her studies in Archaeology at Bologna University and is thinking about completing her PHD.