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Vanguard Cave, Palaeolithic occupation site

Ref: HLCGFP4/023

Vanguard is the sister cave to Gorham’s Cave. It has a 17-metre archaeological sequence which is currently the subject of continued research. It is an important component of the Gorham’s Cave Complex which is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

This cave was occupied by the Neanderthals and has produced the first evidence anywhere that Neanderthals consumed marine foods, including shellfish, seals, dolphins and fish. It is therefore of major world importance as a site that reveals Neanderthal behaviour in intimate detail. Unlike Gorham’s Cave, the archaeological sequence in Vanguard Cave is Neanderthal and there is no record of later occupation here. Both Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves offer a complete Late Pleistocene sequence of Neanderthal and modern human occupation.

Within the sequences at Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves there is a detailed record of vegetation and fauna that has provided evidence for the quantitative reconstruction of environments that were exploited by Neanderthals that can be correlated with the last presence of Neanderthals and the subsequent occupation of the site by modern humans.  Thus, these sites provide a unique record of human occupation and environmental change in the Late Pleistocene (123,000-10,000 years ago).

Vanguard Cave complements the Gorham’s Cave Neanderthal occupation sequence, spanning the time frame 127,000-75,000 years ago in 17m of sediment.  This cave has a depth of 41m but may actually be deeper as the sediments currently fill much of the cave.  The height of the cave is 35m and a width of 35m at its entrance. 

The upper units of Vanguard Cave contain a well-defined layer of ash associated with marine shells, dominated by mussels of the species Mytilus galloprovincialis, likely from a nearby estuarine source, and a hearth and a concentration of knapping debris and Mousterian stone tools, providing clear evidence for the exploitation of marine molluscs by Neanderthals. This occupation level represents a short period, and it records several activities in the life of the Neanderthal occupants.

Link to Gibraltar Neanderthal Caves and Environments

Vanguard Cave looking out.

Vanguard Cave archaeological profile.

The Vanguard Cave Child tooth.

Vanguard Cave, Palaeolithic occupation site Image