The discovery of a Neanderthal child’s upper right canine milk tooth in Vanguard Cave, Gibraltar, was announced at a press conference today.
"The tooth was discovered during laboratory work in the Gibraltar Museum, on Monday 3rd July, by Miriam Napper of Liverpool John Moores University, and Lucia Castagna from Bologna University. They noticed a strange tooth, which they passed to Stewart Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum who immediately recognised its importance. Photographs of the tooth were sent immediately to leading experts in this field, particularly working on Neanderthal teeth. These were members of Professor José María Bermudez de Castro’s team at CENIEH in Burgos (linked to Atapuerca), including Dr María Martinón Torres (University College London) and pre-doctoral student Cecilia García.
They confirmed that tooth belonged to a human child aged 4-5 years and showed features characteristic of Neanderthal. Its context, in a level at Vanguard Cave dated to ~50,000 years ago, confirms the identity as being Neanderthal. The level from which the tooth came is not one of occupation by Neanderthals but is, instead, a Spotted Hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) lair. It is possible that the child had been predated by hyaenas, but this is only a working hypothesis at this stage.
Work now continues at Vanguard and Gorham’s Cave until mid-August but, given the importance of the find – Gibraltar’s third Neanderthal – emphasis will be given to this level at Vanguard Cave. Researchers do not discard the possibility of further finds but this cannot be known with certainty at this stage.
This is the first excavation at the Gorham’s Cave Complex since its declaration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2016. It reveals further the importance of the site and its huge potential for further discoveries. The Gibraltar Museum is responsible for the excavations at the site, and wish to acknowledge Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar’s continued support for the project, without which the research could not continue."