Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Late survival of Neanderthals at the southernmost extreme of Europe


The late survival of archaic hominin populations and their long contemporaneity with modern humans is now clear for southeast Asia1. In Europe the extinction of the Neanderthals, firmly associated with Mousterian technology, has received much attention, and evidence of their survival after 35 kyr bp has recently been put in doubt2. Here we present data, based on a high-resolution record of human occupation from Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar, that establish the survival of a population of Neanderthals to 28 kyr bp. These Neanderthals survived in the southernmost point of Europe, within a particular physiographic context, and are the last currently recorded anywhere. Our results show that the Neanderthals survived in isolated refuges well after the arrival of modern humans in Europe.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Plan of Gorham’s Cave including the section excavated.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Brown, P. et al. A new small-bodied hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia. Nature 431, 1055–1061 (2004)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Mellars, P. A. A new radiocarbon revolution and the dispersal of modern humans in Eurasia. Nature 439, 931–935 (2006)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Busk, G. On a very ancient cranium from Gibraltar. Report of the 34th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Bath, 1864) 91–92 (1865)

  4. Garrod, D. A. E., Buxton, L. H. D., Elliot Smith, G. & Bate, D. M. A. Excavation of a Mousterian Rock-shelter at Devil’s Tower, Gibraltar. J. R. Anthropol. Inst. 58, 91–113 (1928)

    Google Scholar 

  5. Mellars, P. The Neanderthal Legacy (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1996)

  6. Waechter, J. D’A. The excavations at Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar, 1951–1954. Bull. Inst. Archaeol. Lond. 4, 189–221 (1964)

    Google Scholar 

  7. Barton, N. in Neanderthals on the Edge (eds Stringer, C. B., Barton, R. N. E. & Finlayson, C.) 211–220 (Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2000)

  8. Pettitt, P. B. & Bailey, R. M. in Neanderthals on the Edge (eds Stringer, C. B., Barton, R. N. E. & Finlayson, C.) 155–162 (Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2000)

  9. Reimer, P. J. et al. Comment on ‘Radiocarbon calibration curve spanning 0 to 50,000 years BP based on paired 230Th/234U/238U and 14C dates on pristine corals’ by R. G. Fairbanks et al. (Quaternary Science Reviews 24 (2005) 1781–1796) and ‘Extending the radiocarbon calibration beyond 26,000 years before present using fossil corals’ by T.-C. Chin et al. (Quaternary Science Reviews 24 (2005) 1797–1808). Quat. Sci. Rev. 25, 855–862 (2006)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Romano, F. P. et al. Quantitative non-destructive determination of trace elements in archaeological pottery using a portable beam stability-controlled XRF spectrometer. XRay Spectrom. 35, 1–7 (2006)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Gaudzinski, S. (2004) A matter of high resolution? The Eemian Interglacial (OIS 5e) in North-central Europe and Middle Palaeolithic subsistence. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14, 201–211 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Grayson, D. K. & Delpech, F. Ungulates and the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition at Grotte XVI (Dordogne, France). J. Archaeol. Sci. 30, 1633–1648 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Higham, T. F. G., Jacobi, R. M. & Bronk Ramsay, C. AMS radiocarbon dating of ancient bone using ultrafiltration. Radiocarbon 48, 179–195 (2006)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Higham, T., Bronk Ramsey, C., Karavanic, I., Smith, F. H. & Trinkaus, E. Revised direct radiocarbon dating of the Vindija G1 Upper Palaeolithic Neanderthals. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 103, 553–557 (2006)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Barroso Ruiz, C. (ed.) El Pleistoceno Superior de la Cueva del Boquete de Zafarraya (Junta de Andalucía, Arqueología Monografías, 2003)

  16. Skinner, A. R. et al. ESR dating at Mezmaiskaya Cave, Russia. Appl. Radiat. Isot. 62, 219–224 (2005)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Zilhao, J. in Neanderthals on the Edge (eds Stringer, C. B., Barton, R. N. E. & Finlayson, C.) 111–119 (Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2000)

  18. Finlayson, C. Biogeography and evolution of the genus Homo.. Trends Ecol. Evol. 20, 457–463 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. d’Errico, F. & Sánchez Goñi, M. F. Neanderthal extinction and the millennial scale climatic variability of OIS 3. Quat. Sci. Rev 22, 769–788 (2003)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Finlayson, C. Neanderthals and Modern Humans (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2004)

  21. Mellars, P. The Neanderthal problem continued. Curr. Anthropol. 40, 341–364 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kirsch, H. J. Illite crystalinity: recommendations on sample preparation, X-ray diffraction settings, and interlaboratory samples. J. Metamorphic Geol. 9, 665–670 (1991)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Martin, J. D. Qualitative and quantitative powder X-ray diffraction analysis. <> (2004)

  24. Sakamoto, T. et al. 2006 non-destructive X-ray fluorescence (XRF) core imaging scanner, ‘TATSCAN-F2’ for the IODP science, scientific drilling. Integrated ODP 2, 37–39 (2006)

    Google Scholar 

  25. Bea, F., Montero, P., Stroh, A. & Baasner, J. Microanalysis of minerals by an Excimer UV-LA-ICP-MS system. Chem. Geol. 133, 145–156 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank all those who have participated in this project. The project Palaeomed was co-funded by the Government of Gibraltar and the European Union Interreg IIIB Programme Medocc. Palynological and geochemical investigations were funded by Fundación Séneca, Murcia, Spain, and Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, DGI, Spain, respectively. Geomorphological work was funded by Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, DGI, Spain. Author Contributions C.F., F.G.P., J.R.-V. and C.B.S. were responsible for project direction and management. C.F. coordinated the writing. Multidisciplinary work was divided as follows: archaeology and curation—F.G.P., J.M.G.L., A.S.P., J.B.P., F.G.G., K.B., C.A.V. and A.V.; geomorphology and sedimentology—J.R.-V., F.J.J.E., F.M.R. and T.S.; taphonomy—I.C. and Y.F.J.; palaeoecology—C.F., D.A.F. (general), G.F. (palaeolandscape), E.A. (anthracology), J.S.C., P.L., J.A.L.S., N.F. (palaeobotany), C.P.G.-O. (herpetological taxonomy), J.A.R.C. (mammalian taxonomy) and A.S.M. (avian taxonomy). All authors discussed and interpreted the results and commented on the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Clive Finlayson.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Notes

This file contains Supplementary Notes under five headings: 1. Stratigraphic and archaeological information for Levels III and IV Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar (including 2 Supplementary Figures); 2. Geochemical and Mineralogical Analyses (including 2 Supplementary Tables and 2 Supplementary Figures.); 3. Taphonomy (1 Supplementary Table); 4. AMS Dating; and 5. Ecology (1 Supplementary Table). (DOC 10175 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Finlayson, C., Giles Pacheco, F., Rodríguez-Vidal, J. et al. Late survival of Neanderthals at the southernmost extreme of Europe. Nature 443, 850–853 (2006).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing