Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Neandertal Finds Volume 52 Number 2, March/April 1999
by Paul G. Bahn

In a sensational discovery in the Neander Valley, two German archaeologists have found not only the location of the cave which yielded the bones of the original Neandertal to quarrymen in August 1856, but also at least one fragment of the same individual and at least two pieces of a second skeleton.

Ralf Schmitz and Jürgen Thissen of the Rhineland Archaeological Service were guided to the location of the cave, destroyed long ago by quarrying, by bat teeth and fragments of stalactites in the damp earth, as well as by romantic nineteenth-century paintings of the site near the Düssel River. The archaeologists excavated the site late in 1997, but only made their results public this winter.

Their investigations unearthed about 20 small fragments of human bone--a molar, a vertebra, ribs, a toe, and a bit of pelvis--that apparently accompany the 16 bones recovered in 1856. One small fragment of the left knee joint, scarcely bigger than a finger tip, actually fits onto the nineteenth-century find. Even more exciting was the discovery of two small fragments of an extremely robust right humerus (upper arm bone). Since the original Neandertal skeleton has an intact right humerus, these fragments must come from a second individual. Carbon-14 tests of one of the fragments has revealed it to be 40,000 years old. Schmitz and Thissen also uncovered stone tools, traces of hearths, and animal bones.

The discoverers hope that since their new finds are fresh from the ground, they may prove to be far more useful for dating and genetic analysis than the bones from 1856, which have been contaminated by almost a century and a half of handling.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America