Friday, 14th September 2012

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Gibraltar plans Neanderthal themed park

by Alice Mascarenhas

EARLY MAN THEME Heritage Minister Steven Linares at the centre of the large group of international and local speakers at this year’s Calpe Conference.

Gibraltar Government is actively discussing plans with Museum Director Professor Clive Finlayson to create and develop a Neanderthal themed park on the Rock and how to integrate the world class heritage site concept within it.

Speaking on the Government plans for the study, conservation and interpretation of the importance of the heritage is stored in Gibraltar’s caves, at the opening of The Calpe Conference 2012, Heritage Minister Steven Linares yesterday stated there were a number of exciting options that would be discovered between now and the end of the year to bid departmentally for government funds to make this a reality. The deadline, he told the delegates at the 16th edition of Calpe, was January 2015 given that the UK Government had recently announced they would be putting forward the Gorham’s Cave Complex to UNESCO for formal recognition as a world heritage site.

“We are thrilled with the news because the process of nomination is highly competitive from the start and we have had to work very hard to achieve this early slot. I have no doubt that the important work that has been carried out in the last 20 years, started and supported by the GSLP Government when we were last in Government, has been a major contributory factor in this decision.”

This was now, said the Minister, an exciting time for Gibraltar especially for those interested in the subject and “our own pre-historic ancestry”.

Having visited the caves this summer Mr Linares acknowledged the potential which existed within Gorham’s Cave and its sister cave Vanguard “which I am told probably has even more than Gorham’s”.

There was still further intense work needed to prepare for the bid over the next three years, he acknowledged, but this would not just involve the preparation of nomination, dossier, legislation and management plan because in parallel they would be working hard to establish the theme park.

Although he would not be pushed on saying too much on the subject because of the discussions in hand he did however confirm the Gorham’s Cave Complex would be at the heart of it.

The Minster revealed however that this theme would be carried through to next year’s Calpe conference which would focus on caves and would be jointly organised by the Gibraltar Museum and GONHS. Gibraltar already has 200 caves registered, he stated, an amazing number with nine of them having produced evidence on Neanderthal activity. This, further commented Mr Linares, must make Gibraltar the place with the highest density on Neanderthal activity in the world. In 2014 Calpe will concentrate on world heritage and by 2015 there will be a return to the three year cycle on human development.

Meanwhile this year’s conference has once again brought together some eminent figures in the world of science. The series of topics surrounding the theme ‘The Human Niche: Ecology, Behaviour and Culture in the Genus Homo’ will continue to be debated today and tomorrow at the John Mackintosh Hall. Professor Finlayson again describes this as a landmark conference, and one in which he hoped the current human evolution paradigm would be replaced by a new approach, one that would place ecology in the forefront.

Jacque Blondel, the opening speaker yesterday morning, is no stranger to Gibraltar. On his fourth visit from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Montpellier in France he believes Calpe 2012 should be the starting point of a very important reminder of the place of humans in evolution and should further contribute to the link between humans and non-humans.

“The Calpe conferences,” he says are well known and even though small in number, very well understood in Europe and making them important.

“The last one I attended in 2010 was well reviewed and covered in scientific magazines,” he recalled.

Christoph Zollikofer from the University of Zurich, another of the speakers, said he had attended all the conferences on human evolution since 1998.

“Gibraltar has been a hot spot for science. There are many interesting things going on with new sites, new evidence, etc. As important as answering scientific questions is meeting new and old friends from all over the world.”

From Harvard University Richard Wrangham, who is in Gibraltar for the first time, stated that the Calpe Conference was a reasonably well known marker on human evolution.

“It is remarkable that although we know a lot about the detail of the anatomical changes that went on during the last two million years we still are quite uncertain about exactly what biological role humans have played and why some very strange things have happened. For long periods of time humans were almost extinct, we need to know why, why there were so many different kinds of humans and at different times and places? These are still amazingly unknown questions. So it is great to have a group of specialists to be able to try and grapple with them,” he said.

Local residents can register and attend the conference free of charge. Today and tomorrow the morning sessions start at 9am and the afternoon sessions at 3pm. Delegates are welcome to stay all day or just attend the sections they are most interested in.




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