Bennet’s Cave is the most southerly of four caves that show evidence of Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthal occupation.
The cave is part of the Gorham’s Cave Complex, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like the adjacent Gorham’s, Hyaena and Vanguard Caves, Bennett’s is a sea cave. It has a depth of 12m with a height of 40m and width of 14m at the entrance. The upper part of the cave has archaeological deposits dating back to the late Pleistocene. There is evidence of Neanderthal occupation and also of later visits by ancient mariners, mainly Phoenicians (800-200 BCE). There is also some evidence of visits during the Muslim period, presumably Merinid (14th century AD).
Bennett's Cave like the other three sea caves has been gradually filled with sand to a remarkable depth, blown in over thousands of years and as a result the layers of sand record the environment of these caves dating back between 15,000 to 55,000 years ago. During the Ice Age the sea level was much lower and the shoreline would have been as much as 4.5 km from the caves whereas today the waves can at times literally sweep into the caves.
Spoil from tunnelling in the 1950’s was deposited at the base of the cliff by Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves, creating an artificial beach known as Governor’s Beach.
The caves have since been extensively excavated over the past 26 years, and results have shown that Gibraltar was the last refuge for the Neanderthals around 32,000 years ago. An international, multi-disciplinary research project has revealed the vital importance of the site in our understanding of a critical juncture in human evolution and of the Neanderthals in particular. These continuing excavations have reaped a wealth of information on Neanderthal and early modern human occupation of Gibraltar including landscape setting and the natural species that existed at the time which assist in presenting the natural resources, environmental context, as well as climatic conditions, of Neanderthal life. The excavations have provided evidence of their complex social behaviour, dress and unique elements including a rock engraving carved by the Neanderthals in Gorham’s Cave, which indicate their ability for abstract thought.