Gibraltar 1

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Gibraltar Skull
Common nameGibraltar Skull
SpeciesHomo neanderthalensis
Place discoveredForbes' Quarry, Gibraltar
Date discoveredc. 1848
Discovered byUnknown

Gibraltar 1 is the name given to a Neanderthal skull, also known as the Gibraltar Skull, which was discovered at Forbes' Quarry in Gibraltar. The skull was presented to the Gibraltar Scientific Society by its secretary, Lieutenant Edmund Henry Réné Flint, on 3 March 1848.[1][2] This discovery predates the finding of the Neanderthal type specimen.

In 19th century science[edit]

Found more than ten years before the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species and eight years prior to the famous discovery in the Neander Valley, the significance of the find was not understood at the time, and the skull was simply labelled as "an ancient human, died before the universal flood" and remained forgotten inside a cupboard at the Garrison Library for many years.[3] After the publication of Origin of Species, a renewed interest in the fossil human remains led to the skull being brought out of obscurity, and presented at a meeting in the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1864.[4] Darwin was not present, but the skull was later examined by both Darwin and Thomas Huxley, who concluded the skull was that of an extinct human species. Darwin did however only make fleeting reference to Gibraltar 1 in the 1871 Descent of Man.[5] A cast of the skull can be viewed at the Gibraltar Museum – the original is on display in the Human Evolution gallery of the Natural History Museum in London.


Front view of the skull in the Natural History Museum, London

The original find was done in a time where the palaeontological dating was still in its infancy, and no stratigraphic information was supplied with the skull, making dating at best guesswork. Another specimen from a different locale on Gibraltar (Gibraltar 2) has however been dated to between 30 thousand to 50 thousand years old.[6] The skull is that of an adult woman, also with typical Neanderthal features.[7] While the skull was one of the first to be found, it was also possibly from one of the last surviving Neanderthal populations.[4]

Gibraltar as a refuge[edit]

Side view of the Skull

Until the late twentieth century, it was believed that the last Neanderthals disappeared about 35,000 years ago. However, studies have suggested that Neanderthals survived in southern Iberia and Gibraltar to less than 30,000 years before the present. Radiocarbon dating performed on charcoal in Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar in 2006 suggests that Neanderthals lived there 24,000 to 28,000 years ago, well after the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe 40,000 years ago. Vanguard Cave and Gorham's Cave are still the sites of active archaeological excavation in 2012. These caves may have represented the refugium of Gibraltar's Neanderthals.[8]

3D model[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Menez, Alex (2018). "Custodian of the Gibraltar Skull: The History of the Gibraltar Scientific Society". Earth Sciences History. 37 (1): 34–62. doi:10.17704/1944-6178-37.1.34.
  2. ^ Menez, Alex (March 2018). "The Gibraltar Skull: early history, 1848–1868". Archives of Natural History. 45 (1): 91–110. doi:10.3366/anh.2018.0485.
  3. ^ "Lower St. Michael's Cave". Visit Gibraltar. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  4. ^ a b Balter, M. (2009-09-22). "When Darwin Met a Neandertal". Talk Origins. Science. Archived from the original on 12 November 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  5. ^ Darwin, R.C. 1871: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray. Volume 1., p. 28, 1st edition.
  6. ^ Smith, T. M.; Tafforeau, P.; Reid, D. J.; Pouech, J.; Lazzari, V.; Zermeno, J. P.; Guatelli-Steinberg, D.; Olejniczak, A. J.; Hoffman, A.; Radovcic, J.; Makaremi, M.; Toussaint, M.; Stringer, C.; Hublin, J.-J. (15 November 2010). "Dental evidence for ontogenetic differences between modern humans and Neanderthals" (PDF). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (49): 20923–20928. Bibcode:2010PNAS..10720923S. doi:10.1073/pnas.1010906107. PMC 3000267. PMID 21078988.
  7. ^ "The Gibraltar Skull". Nature. 120 (3028): 710. 12 November 1927. Bibcode:1927Natur.120..710.. doi:10.1038/120710a0.
  8. ^ Rincon, Paul (13 September 2006). "Neanderthals' 'last rock refuge'". BBC News. Retrieved 12 October 2012.