Gorham's Cave

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Gorham's Cave
View from Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar.JPG
View of the Alboran Sea from inside Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar.
Map showing the location of Gorham's Cave
Map showing the location of Gorham's Cave
Map showing location of Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar.
Location Southeast face of the Rock of Gibraltar, Gibraltar
Coordinates 36°07′13″N 5°20′31″W / 36.120397°N 5.342075°W / 36.120397; -5.342075Coordinates: 36°07′13″N 5°20′31″W / 36.120397°N 5.342075°W / 36.120397; -5.342075
Depth 18 metres (59 ft)
Discovery 1907
Geology Limestone

Gorham's Cave is a natural sea cave in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, considered to be one of the last known habitations of the Neanderthals. It is located on the southeast face of the Rock of Gibraltar. When first inhabited, it would have been approximately five kilometres from the shore but, due to changes in sea level, it is now only a few metres from the Mediterranean Sea. Gorham's cave gives its name to the Gorham's Cave complex which is a combination of four distinct caves which are of such importance that they are proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The three other caves are Vanguard Cave, Hyaena Cave and Bennett's Cave.[1]



View of Gorham's Cave on the east face of the Rock of Gibraltar.

The cave is named after Captain A. Gorham of the 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers who discovered it in 1907 when opening a fissure at the back of a sea cavern. Capt. Gorham inscribed his name and the date of his discovery in lamp-black on the wall of the cave which has borne his name ever since. After this initial discovery, it seems the cave was forgotten at least at an official level as Gibraltarian historian and potholer George Palao recalls an inscription on the cave wall that read J. J. Davies 1943.[2]


Gorham's Cave has been a site of archaeological interest since its importance was first recognised. The beach below the cave (Governor's Beach) had always been inaccessible from the cliffs above. However after one set of tunnelling in the rock the beach and cave became accessible due to the pile of spoil that was created.[3]

Keighley and Ward, who were both Royal Engineers were the first to report archaeology in the cave via the Gibraltar newspapers. They had found Neanderthal pottery and stone tools. Moreover they also reported that human and animal remains had been discovered in Gorham's cave. Rev. F.E. Brown of the Gibraltar Society reported these findings to the Governor of Gibraltar who requested further investigations after a site visit. These investigations were reported to the British Museum for their deliberation.[3]

In 1945, Lieutenant George Baker Alexander, Royal Engineer and a graduate geologist from University of Cambridge arrived in Gibraltar. He decided to make a geological survey of Gibraltar which resulted in a detailed geological map. Alexander was the first to excavate Gorham’s Cave before his departure from Gibraltar in 1948 after the Gibraltar Museum challenged his methods.[3]

The Governor wrote to the British Museum requesting that they continue further explorations of the cave in 1945. However, the museum had no resources so they forwarded his enquiry to Professor Dorothy Garrod at Cambridge who had found a Neanderthal skull at Devil's Tower Cave during her earlier work on Gibraltar in the 1920s. Garrod asked Dr. John D'A Waechter, a fellow of the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara to help. Dr. Waechter arrived in September 1948 and spent two months digging test pits to see if further excavation was justified.[4] Waechter success resulted in him returning in June 1950. He went back to England without concluding the work in 1951 and returned from February to July 1952. During his final visit in 1954 he successfully requested financial assistance from the local government to complete his work.[2]

Ongoing excavation[edit]

Excavation of this site has resulted in the discovery of four layers of stratigraphy. The first level has produced evidence for 8th to 3rd centuries BC use by Phoenicians. Below that is evidence for brief Neolithic use. Level III has yielded at least 240 Upper Paleolithic artefacts of Magdalenian and Solutrean origin. Level IV has produced 103 items, including spear-points, knives and scraping devices, identified as Mousterian, and shows repeated use over thousands of years. AMS dating gives dates for this level of between 33 and 23 kyr BP — the researchers felt that the uncertainties at this time depth made calibration impractical. They suggest occupation until at least 28 kyr BP and possibly 24 kyr BP.[5] No fossil remains have been found that would allow identification pointing to either Neanderthal or Anatomically Modern Human inhabitants, nor associate with findings of a modern human in nearby Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Portugal of 24,500 years ago that allegedly featured Neanderthal admixtures,[6] but Mousterian culture is normally identified with Neanderthals in Europe.[7]

UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination[edit]

Gorham's cave gives its name to the Gorham's Cave complex which is a combination of four distinct cave's which are of such importance that they are a proposed UNESCO heritage site. The three other caves are the nearby Vanguard Cave, the Hyaena Cave and Bennett's Cave.[1]

In November 2010, the Gorham's Cave complex was put forward for to compete for a nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Professor Clive Finlayson, Director of the Gibraltar Museum, was responsible for co-ordinating the efforts to obtain this nomination. The first step was a proposal to the United Kingdom cultural authorities to get Gorham's Cave added to the UK's World Heritage Tentative List.[8] Such a list is revised every 10 years, and the process for a new list was ongoing at the date of the submission.[9]

The ownership of land associated with Gorham's Cave was passed from the UK Ministry of Defence to the Government of Gibraltar in 2011. The agreement swapped this MOD land and over 300 MOD houses with the Government of Gibraltar and in exchange they agreed to built 90 new houses on remaining MOD land.[10]

In May 2012 Gorham's Cave was, along with the Forth Rail Bridge, on the short list of two sites that have been forwarded for submission to UNESCO.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gorham's Cave Complex, UNESCO tentative sites list, retrieved 4 August 2014
  2. ^ a b Finlayson, Clive. "History of Gorham's Cave". Gibraltar Museum. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "The Cave That Time Forgot". Visit Gibraltar (10): 3. June 2001. 
  4. ^ J. d'A. WAECHTER: "Excavations at Gorhom's Cave, Gibraltar", Paper n.O 3 Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society for 1951
  5. ^ Finlayson C, Pacheco FG, Rodríguez-Vidal J, et al. (October 2006). "Late survival of Neanderthals at the southernmost extreme of Europe" (PDF). Nature 443 (7113): 850–3. Bibcode:2006Natur.443..850F. doi:10.1038/nature05195. PMID 16971951. 
  6. ^ Duarte C, Maurício J, Pettitt PB, et al. (June 1999). "The early Upper Paleolithic human skeleton from the Abrigo do Lagar Velho (Portugal) and modern human emergence in Iberia". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96 (13): 7604–9. Bibcode:1999PNAS...96.7604D. doi:10.1073/pnas.96.13.7604. PMC 22133. PMID 10377462. 
  7. ^ Location diagrams at Anthropologynet and BBC News
  8. ^ "UK Tentative List of Potential Sites for World Heritage Nomination: Application form". UK Government. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  9. ^ Government Seek World Heritage Status for Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar Chronicle, 8 November 2010.
  10. ^ "Government announces details of the recent Lands Agreement with MOD". 29 July 2011. Government of Gibraltar. Retrieved 1 May 2013. 
  11. ^ Gorham's Cave Short-Listed, BBC News, 28 May 2012

External links[edit]