Excavations - Vanguard Cave (J.C.Finlayson)
Excavations - Vanguard Cave (J.C.Finlayson)

At the southernmost part of the Iberian Peninsula and in full view of North Africa, the Rock of Gibraltar, is a British Overseas Territory with a long tradition of work on Ice Age humans, fauna and geology which dates back to the 18 th Century.

It was in Forbes’ Quarry that the Gibraltar 1 Neanderthal skull was found in 1848, eight years before the Feldhofer specimen. A further two Neanderthal fossils have been discovered: the skull of a child at Devil’s Tower Shelter Cave in 1926 and the deciduous canine tooth of a child at Vanguard Cave in 2017.

Gorham's Cave complex (S.Finlayson)
Gorham's Cave complex (S.Finlayson)

The Gibraltar Museum is a long-standing institution which was founded in 1930. It is situated in Bomb House Lane, just off the Main Street in the heart of the city. Here galleries display representative findings of Ice Age Europe from the extreme south-west where climatic changes were not as severe as in the north.

The Gibraltar Museum is responsible for all Ice Age sites on the 6km long peninsula, nine of which were occupied by Neanderthals including the three fossil sites mentioned above. The museum’s brief includes research and since 1989 it has coordinated an international research project on the sea caves, in particular Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves, which contain substantial archaeological deposits. The data and information retrieved from the annual excavations led to the inscription of the Gorham’s Cave Complex as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016.. Gorham’s Cave is currently the last known site of Neanderthal survival, as recently as 32,000 years ago. These sites are also being used to reconstruct the lives and environs of the southern Neanderthals.

Gorham's Cave Neanderthal engraving (S.Finlayson)
Gorham's Cave Neanderthal engraving (S.Finlayson)

These findings, such as the exploitation of seals and dolphins or the feathers of large raptors, are exhibited in the Gibraltar Museum which acts as the main interpretation centre for all the Gibraltar Ice Age sites. Amongst the objects on display is a cast of the unique Neanderthal engraving found in Gorham’s Cave in 2013. The engraving dates to about 39,000 years ago.

In addition to exhibitions and research, the Gibraltar Museum has an active hands-on education and outreach programme on Ice Age Europe and the Neanderthals. This programme is available to local schools and those from outside as well on request. The Gibraltar Museum has extended this education programme to the Gorham’s Cave Complex UNESCO World Heritage Site with the opening of a Viewing Platform at Europa Advance Battery. The Viewing Platform offers unique views of the entire World Heritage Site from sea level all the way to the highest point of the Rock at O’Hara’s Battery (426m above sea level), including the popular Mediterranean Steps. This together with the interpretation panels and specialist staff available on site is aimed at promoting and providing access to the World Heritage Site, bringing it closer to the public where possible.

Flint & Nana - Kennis & Kennis reconstructions of the Gibraltar 1&2 skulls - Photo S.Finlayson
Flint & Nana - Kennis & Kennis reconstructions of the Gibraltar 1&2 skulls - Photo S.Finlayson

In addition to the exhibition galleries at the Gibraltar Museum focusing on the World Heritage Site through the wealth of Ice Age heritage, our displays also tell the story of the discoveries in anthropology, archaeology and biology which have been made in Gibraltar since the 18 th Century. Other exhibits at the Gibraltar Museum cover Gibraltar’s rich natural, military and social histories not forgetting the original 14 th -Century Medieval bathhouse which can also be visited in the museum basement.

Gibraltar is a very special place and is a living museum in its own right. The role of the Gibraltar Museum is to act as a focal point to stimulate visitors to go out and explore the rest of Gibraltar.