Tour of Gibraltar caves to explore Neandertal behavior

Tour of Gibraltar caves to explore Neandertal behavior


[ Music ] I’ve come to Gibraltar to
Gorham’s and Vanguard caves, which are two of the most
exciting sites right now for Neandertals and understanding
their lifestyles and, and how they lived. So, we’re here at the
very end of Europe. We’re looking at two caves
that were occupied at the end of Neandertals time, and
it’s, it’s an amazing place. I hope you’ll like it. What are we looking at? Right. If you’ll like, this is
a cross-section of the dune. Can you imagine a sand dune that
was being built up as the sand, as the wind brings up
little grains of sand, yeah? And, and it comes and it sort
of eddying in round structures, there might be stalactites
and that sort of thing. So it’s not, it’s not
coming in straight, it’s coming in as
angles and depending on how the dune is forming,
the angles are changing. The reason I’m saying this
is that is what allows us to understand why
you’ve got a semi, almost horizontal level here,
and then it starts, sort of, going upwards a bit, and you can
actually follow this dark line, quite clearly. Now, if you notice, this dark
line is made up of charcoals. But these charcoals, if
you look underneath the, the levels of the, the sediments
underneath haven’t been altered by heat. They’re the same color
and they’re quite uniform. So our interpretation is
that this charcoal is sliding down the dune, probably from a
level a little bit further up, which we can look at in
a minute, and, you know, as the winds bringing
other sand grains along, it’s also blowing these bits of
charcoal, which are quite light, and they’re accumulating here,
and, but you can still follow, it seems to be on the lower
area, there’s more of them, but you can follow this level
with these bits of charcoal. So what we’re looking
at, just to, just to make it really
clear, is we’re looking at, an ancient surface, a
floor surface in the cave, and people were active
on this surface, and the charcoal is here
because they were making fires. Somebody was making a fire,
and although you see a lot of it here, it doesn’t
necessarily mean that the fire was here. Right. However, if you
come along to this part, you can see that
underneath the charcoal here, you’ve got a very dark,
rich colored area, and that shows alteration
through heat. So we have the, the hearth is
actually here, in this area. Okay. So, now we’re beginning
to build up what this looked like when people were actually
stepping on these levels. They have their hearth here, and then after they’ve
left their hearth and it had cooled down, the wind
was blowing everything around and there were eddies and,
and it was accumulating in other parts of the cave. So, you have to be aware of
the geology to understand and interpret what
you’re finding when you do an excavation. Sure, there’s, I mean
it’s a track of behavior. There was a fire, but that
fire’s there, it’s left, there’s charcoal left in it,
you guys are finding things in the charcoal, and, and
yet, after that fire is dead, people come in, they kick
the charcoal around, there’s, you know, animals are coming
in, it’s, it has a life of its own before
it gets buried. That’s right, and when we come
back and we start interpreting, we can look at the charcoal. The charcoal gives
you an indication of what vegetation there
was just outside the cave. Why? Because nobody’s
going to walk for miles to get some bushes, you’re
going to get the ones that are just outside the cave. So the charcoal is, if
you like, an indication of the small-scale
vegetation in the area. We have other ways of finding
out what vegetation was at a larger scale, and the
way we do that is we look at pollens, and we can get
pollens from various sources. Well one of the ones
that we use is the pollen that we can extract
from coprolites, which is fossilized droppings. So I can show you
a, a coprolite. Yeah, absolutely. We got to see this. This, we have, we have, here
we have paleo- poop, here. So following this level of
charcoals, it comes all the way, we can see it, trace
it all the way along. And follow it along through
here, and to come to this level, its still part, the same,
it’s the same level, it’s just slightly
higher because it’s on another part of
the same dune. And then this white
thing that you see here, that’s the fossilized
droppings, or the coprolites. Okay. Now, when you
get the pollen, you can extract the
pollens from the coprolites. What you’re getting, you might
ask, well, okay, first of all, what produced that coprolite. Well, we’re fairly
certain that’s a hyena that was probably
rummaging around the remains of this fireplace, see if
they could scavenge anything, anything that’s left. But that hyena was, would have
been feeding on herbivores that are in the plain
outside, and those herbivores, in their own right,
have a range. So, when the hyena eats the
guts from this herbivore and ingests the pollen that
that herbivore has been eating, we’re getting now a sample,
which is on a larger scale, so now we can build up the
picture of a landscape, what there is, on the large
scale, from the pollens, what there is on the smaller
scale from the charcoals. So let me ask, it’s sort
of a naive question, how often do you find
things like this? I mean, is this, is this
a totally unique thing in, in this context, or every so often you have
this kind of evidence? You do find coprolites on a, I would say on a fairly
regular basis, I wouldn’t say that the place is awash with
them, but, but you do find them from time to time, usually
where you get hyena activity, you don’t get human activity,
in fact, it’s very rare that you see them together. What you do find is that
the hyenas will come and, come in after the
humans have left, probably to see what
they can find. It’s, it’s fascinating
because there’s a whole science of this, right? You, you’re talking about understanding what
herbivores are eating because you can predict
that the hyenas are going to eat what the herbivores
already have in their gut. And, and it’s going to show up
in the coprolites, and we find, of course, human remains
in certain coprolites in other contexts, and it’s,
it’s really fascinating. Okay, so, let’s, let’s
walk around a little bit and see what else
we’ve got here. Okay, so, so here we’re looking at a much larger section
of, of the entire site. And, and there’s yet more,
because the site goes on, you know, deep into the
cave, but here we’re looking at a very tall profile, so,
so what have we got here? Well this is probably some
5 meters from the area where we were looking
at, to maybe 6 meters from the coprolite, so,
on, it’s above it as well, so it’s more recent
than that activity that was going on there. And what we have here is another
cross-section through the dune, because it’s further into the
cave, the dune is behaving in different ways as well. And remember the dunes build
up when it’s very windy, and then when there’s
animal activity, and that includes people,
the, the dune gets eroded and, and so there’s, there’s
a constant flux in the, in the dune, but in moments
where the cave is unoccupied, then you get the
dune building up. And this is why you get
bands, different bands of different types
of sediments forming. Right, right. And what you can see here, and this is quite a large
cross-section, it’s 1, 2, about 5 meters high, this just
gives you a, a good section of the activity that may have
been happening in the cave over the years, and what it
shows you is that there’s been, people have been coming and
leaving the cave continuously for a very long time,
and you can see that in the different
conditions of, of the sediments, so there are some sediments that
are full or organic material, organic material, a lot
of charcoals, lithics, and then you get bands where
there is an absence of those and there’s a lot of sand that
can be associated with a moment where perhaps it was cold and
there was a lot of wind bringing in a lot of dune, and the dune
was building up very quickly, then maybe there’s more rain and there’s more organic
material being washed into the cave and so the,
the, the sediments change in their characteristics, and, and these are the bands
that are building up. So, so when we see
color bands like this, and a lot of archaeological site
profiles have this sort of look, you’re looking at each of them
representing a, a sort of a, a climate, a microclimate,
in a way, and that’s the circumstances in
which things are accumulating, and depending on the
moisture content, depending on the carbon
that’s getting into it, it’s going to be
different colored today. That’s right. Yeah, okay. And, and that’s what gives you, and this is what
you can then read, and so when there are people
who can specialize in that and the sediments and interprets
the, you know, based on what is in that sediment, what is
causing the differences, and then that’s how you can
start building up the picture of what’s happening
at each event. And, of course, based on the
total stratigraphy of them, you know, the taking and
accounting of what there is, and using certain kinds of, of
methods, we can sort of figure out how old things are. That’s right. When we look in Gorham’s cave, what is the oldest stuff
that we know of now? Because you haven’t gotten
to the bottom, right? No we haven’t. Yeah, yeah. Well, you, you have to choose
different dating techniques, because 40,000 is probably about
the barrier for carbon dating, so using the different
techniques, we use uranium-thorium,
we use OSL, but all these different
techniques at least give you an, an indication of what sort of
ages we’re talking about, so, where we’re standing is more
or less about 40,000 years ago. Let’s just an idea, but right
at the very back of the cave, of course you’ve
got the sediments which have been associated
with Neandertal activity, which are the most recent
anywhere else in the planet. The last Neandertals were there. If you like, we can go and have
a look at those in a minute. Well, you know we’re going
there next, so [laughter]. I, I like minutes like
that, right, because this is where the video now
switches [laughter]. Alright, so now we’re
in Vanguard cave, and Vanguard cave is a really
relatively short stroll, I mean, we climbed over rocks to
get here, but, but it’s, it’s very close to
Gorham’s cave, and yet this cave presents a
different scenario in terms of what is going
on in the deposit, what you’re finding here. So, describe a little
bit about what, what Vanguard cave is like. Right, well Vanguard
Cave, in some respect, resembles Gorham’s,
it’s a sea cave, but the sediments that’s
filled it in, it’s 17 meters, almost as much as Gorham’s
which is 1 meter more. [Inaudible] It seems to come in
much faster, from the sand dune, been much more active. So that when you reach
the top, practically here at the top level, where as in
Gorham’s, you have [inaudible], Neolithic, there’s none of that. It’s all Neandertal,
up to the very top. So we think that possibly
a slight difference in the orientation
of the cave meant that the dune activity
was more intense here.. Filled up and what you seem to be getting here
are repeated levels of more sporadic occupation,
as far as we can see right now, by Neandertals, all
the way to the top. And then periods of
intense windblown activity, which seem to preserve
moments very, very precisely. Gorham’s seems to the
industry, and the way it’s done, the intensity of the
hearth seems to suggest, it’s like the mother
cave, if you like. They’re living there
quite continuously. Places like Vanguard are
right around the corner. It seems to represent moments. They, people come in,
they may collect shellfish and do something,
or, or hunt something and come in, move out quickly. Because it’s so exposed
to the dunes, it’s much more directed
towards the dunes, the dunes quickly come and
cover up these moments, so what you seem to be
getting here are almost very, very short-term events, which
tell us stories in the life of Neandertal peoples. So, so when we look
at the profile here, we see that there are these
very distinct layers of sand that have come in, the
wind is blowing them in, you know, from the east. That’s right. And the dune is building
up right against the rock. Piling up. Yeah, and, and it’s striking
when you look further down the rock, you know,
the amount of sand. Absolutely. That is just totally
sloped up against it. Just, just further along from
here, there’s a big sand dune, a fossil sand dune,
which runs up 300 meters. Yeah! Which is almost to
the very top of the rock, so it’s quite incredible
how fast this activity, during the period we’re talking
about, which is isotope stage 3, you know, 60 to 30,000
years ago, there were moments here when, when aridity must have been
really quite strong and, and a lot of windblown activity
was happening, and you can see that recorded in the cave. Of course, what we
don’t know is that this, this kind of profile may have
been what Gorham’s looked like originally, before
anyone excavated in the 50’s. Yeah. And we don’t know
is what’s behind there, which is intriguing, because
the cave seems to be opening up. Right. And one of the, the
things we want to do is to actually just go through
those top levels, next year, and begin to see whether
there is another chamber just like Gorham’s has at the back, and that would be extremely
interesting, but, for now, what we have is the front
end of the dune, if you like. So we’re just clearing
the deposits and exposing these horizons,
which you can see very clearly, some are, some have
fires, campfires, some have incredible
preservation water levels. So, again, we’re talking
about the importance of water, we know there are moments here
when they have freshwater, and it’s just absolutely
incredible, the resolution [inaudible]. And this cave is, is,
by and large, earlier, then what you have so
far at Gorham’s cave. Yeah, the top here, we’ve
got two dates last year from radiocarbon, and they’re
on the limits, so it’s 45 plus. So we’ve taken, now,
samples for OSL dating, because obviously we can’t
use radiocarbon here. What it means is that the
top here, it probably equates to the front area
that we’re looking at, roughly, in Gorham’s cave. So a lot of things
happened in Gorham’s cave after this one was
already clogged up. Okay, alright, so let’s go look
at the profile a little bit. Okay. What we’re seeing in this
cave is that the sand is blowing in and it’s accumulating
rapidly enough that you’re really getting
rapid burial of things, and that includes
particular moments of time. That’s right. So in, in this cave, you’re getting a very
high resolution of events. And events that might not
necessarily be so far apart in time, and, and so, you
get a moment when maybe a, a short time span, where
there’s quite a dry spell, and there’s a lot of dune
being brought in, the, the sand grains are being
built up, and then there’s a, a rainy episode, and so it,
this gets a little bit of clay, it gets accumulated and
sort of seals it, almost. Then if it’s followed
by a very rainy event, you might actually get water
that’s actually accumulating and then we find the remains
of little ponds and we find in those ponds, the remains of
little amphibians and reptiles, so, they’ve been around long
enough for other animals to come in and colonize it briefly. And then it’s over. And the dune comes over and,
and wipes the slate clean if you like and covers it, and it’s,
the whole process starts again. And these episodes could take
days or it could take years. Wow, so, so here we’re, we’ve
got this year’s excavation that is going on, and you
have one of these sort of water little ponds
that, that. That’s right. You’ve just uncovered here. It, it’s spectacular
because, I mean, you can see exactly what it
is, because you see it today. You know, when the mud
dries out in, in the summer, you get these sort of cracks
appear, and it’s, that’s, that’s what you’ve got there. And then when those
markers that you can see in, in red is where we have
found bones that will need to be processed, but they’ll
be reptile and amphibian bones. You also get little
specks of charcoals. Yeah. But there’s no evidence
of campfires, obviously, where there’s a ponds,
but that makes sense. But what it tells us is that the
campfires may have been nearby, so that when the pond dries out,
the little embers are blowing in with the wind
together with the sands, as it’s all coming in. Wow. I mean, it’s, [pause]
for, for a non-archaeologist, you know, to imagine what
archaeological deposits are like, you know, they’re
very, they’re very different. Each one of them is unique in
the way that it accumulates, and sometimes it’s hundreds
of thousands of years, and sometimes you get these
really very short periods of time, where you
can interpret a lot about what happened
at a particular time. What, what would you
say is the neatest thing that has come out of that? Well this is the
beauty of this cave. This cave gives you events that are maybe hours
or days long at most. So you’ve got this group of
possibly two individuals, they come in with their
little bundle of mussels that they have foraged
nearby on the coastline. We don’t know exactly where
the coastline would have been, but it can’t be very far,
because you don’t carry seafoods for very long, because they,
they spoil very easily. Yeah. And they, they,
they come into the cave, they build a very small fire,
there’s not much charcoal left from that fire, there’s not
much alteration on the sediment, so there wasn’t a huge
heat on that fire. Probably just enough
to open those mussels, they consume the mussels,
once they’re there, they’re retouching the, the lithics that they
use in their stone tools. They take those away
with them, when they go, but they leave all
the debitage behind. Yeah. And then that’s it! You know, they’re gone. So this might, they may
have stayed over, overnight, or it may have been, you
know, just a brief few hours, but the fact is when they
go, the sands covers it up, and it’s left there untouched until we came along
and we excavate it. I think that’s a
huge resolution! I mean, that is unique, I think. It’s completely remarkable. I mean, I just, you, it is the
closest that we come anytime in this to seeing what
somebody’s life was like. Absolutely. You know, and, and that,
I think, is just amazing. It tells us a lot as
well because it tells us that they needn’t necessarily
have always been sitting around, you know, they, they
move from place to place, they stopped temporarily,
have a quick picnic, and then carried on, you know? And, and in this
particular case, it was just two individuals, there’s no evidence it
was anymore than that. Yeah, yeah. So, you know, it,
it’s where it talks about how they’re behaving, how they’re exposing
their environments. Of course, we don’t know
else was going on further out to the cave, but
then, that’s what we do. Well, we talked about
logistical strategies. For hunter/gatherers,
that’s what this means. Absolutely. We’re using the landscape
and it is not, you’re sitting up in a home base and
organizing parties of people to go do things, except
once in a while, you know. Possibly. Yeah. But so I think on that
occasion, it wasn’t. And this is all we can
say, but it, it’s great. And the resolution
is what speaks to us. And you see this here, because
all these little lines, it, you know, it reminds me
of these ice cream cakes, that there’s lines of ice
cream and chocolate, ice cream and chocolate, and this is
what you’ve got here, and, and it’s not necessarily
hunters for thousands of years, we’re talking possibly events
which were as short as days. Yeah. And, and some cases,
the geomorphologist assures us that it, it could be
as short as hours. And so that is exciting. I mean, that resolution
is, is, is very exciting. It is. It’s amazing. So what are, what is the
strategy of you have a, an ancient water
feature, in a sense, and, and you’ve exposed it and you’re
going to study it and so on. And, and you can just
see in the surface here, there are these cracks, there
are impression of things, you know, that, that, it
is, you’ve got a unique sort of record and, obviously,
if you want to go below it, you’ve got to destroy it. Destroy it. This is the point of
archaeology, it’s destructive. So you have to record absolutely
everything you possibly can before you touch it. But, like you said,
there’s imprints on it, we don’t know what made them. It could be vegetational
wood that’s watered away and it’s just left an
imprint, but it shows that this pond wasn’t here
for just a, an hour or two. The ponds would have
taken longer and they would have
stayed around for longer. And if they were, you know,
amphibians were finding them, then obviously they must
have been around for awhile. So when, once we’ve recorded
everything that there is to record, and we’ve
taken all the samples that we can possibly take,
what we tend to do is we, we preserve some of
it, we take casts and we take the whole
items removed in one piece. In this particular case, because
it’s such a huge extense, we will probably only
do it for part of it. Which will be preserved, and we will preserve
part of the level anyway. But then we have to go
through it to see what’s below. But, we’ve done it already
before, and these dark lines that you see against
the section, that is where other ponds
and puddles have been found, and we’ve, we’ve had to
work our way through them. Yeah. Wow. The beauty is that
amphibians are such wonderful indicator
species. Oh yeah. They’re so fussy
about the climate conditions that they can thrive in, so
that helps us reconstruct the environments. Oh yeah. I find that
really exciting. Oh yeah, yeah. [ Background Sounds ]

13 thoughts on “Tour of Gibraltar caves to explore Neandertal behavior

  1. Professor John Hawks is the true Indiana Jones of science! Much admiration and respect for his work! Thank you!

  2. God, I want your job, why did I study Philosophy??? Just kidding, I suspect it was that study informs my envy…Brilliant stuff mate, absolutely brilliant!!!! Oh yeah, subscribed

  3. Incredible, I could listen to this lady (name?) all day, John H. awesome, thrilling as usual. Best time in history to study fossils, etc. I wish I would have gone into this field instead, but learned enough long ago to understand the basics here. PCR and the floppy 5.5 in. disk for storing data. yep, long ago. . .

  4. I would like to have learned what flora and fauna was indicated in the pollen, charcoal petrified remains etc at the different levels/epochs.
    She did mention hyenas.
    On the African plains today Hyenas mop up after the larger predators so does their presence also signal the presence of lions and leopards in Southern Europe?
    Very interesting video.

  5. Here's a hypothesis: Might people might spread dead coals under their sleeping surfaces and then cover the warm layer with animal skins or green leaves or something to use for heating?

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