The cave is named after Captain A. Gorham of the 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers, who discovered it in 1907 while opening a fissure at the rear of a sea cavern. 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 until WWII —as Gibraltarian historian and potholer George Palao recalls an inscription on the cave wall that read J. J. Davies 1943. This was because caves had been inaccessible from the cliffs above; however, spoil from tunnelling during the 1940’s was deposited at the base of the cliff by Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves, creating an artificial beach known as Governor’s Beach.
Royal Engineers Keighley and Ward were the first to report artefacts of archaeological interest in the cave via the Gibraltar newspapers. They had found pottery and stone tools. Moreover, they 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.
Lieutenant George Baker Alexander, Royal Engineer and a graduate geologist from the University of Cambridge, arrived in Gibraltar in 1945. He decided to make a geological survey of Gibraltar that 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.There are no preserved materials about these excavations.
In 1945, the governor wrote to the British Museum requesting that they continue further explorations of the cave. The museum had no resources, however, 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 in Gibraltar in the 1920s. Garrod sought the assistance of Dr. John d'Arcy Waechter, a fellow of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara.
It was during these first excavations, carried out in the early 1950’s, that the archaeological significance, as a site of Neanderthal occupation was realized. These revealed Mousterian stone tools, which had been made by the Neanderthals, along with a wide range of animal bones. Work resumed in 1989, when the Gibraltar Museum teamed up with the British Museum and the Natural History in London to commence the Gibraltar Caves Project.
Gorham’s Cave has an 18-metre deep archaeological sequence that covers the period from ~55 thousand years ago (kyr) to the third Century BC. The sequence is dominated by Neanderthal occupation right up to 28 kyr. The site is the last recorded place of Neanderthal occupation in the world. After the last Neanderthals, Gorham’s Cave was occupied by early modern humans between 20 and 13 kyr. The Palaeolithic sequences are rich in fossils, stone tools and other evidence which is being put together by the Gibraltar Museum to reconstruct the lives of the people who lived in the cave.
The top level of Gorham’s Cave was used by Phoenicians and Carthaginians between the 9th and 3rd Centuries BC. This was a coastal shrine at of the Pillars of Herakles, the end of the world. The ancient mariners left offerings to their gods for safe passage to and from the unknown.
In July 2016, the Gorham Cave complex was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its exceptional testimony to the occupation, cultural traditions and material culture of Neanderthal and early modern human populations through a period spanning approximately 120,000 years. This area covers some 28 hectares on the eastside of Gibraltar from sea level to the top of the Rock.
Link to Gibraltar Neanderthal Caves and Environments
Link to Quaternary micromammals from Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar…. Joanne H. Cooper