The SwissInfo news site has a nice article about a Neandertal site in Switzerland: “Meet a Neanderthal woman from one of Europe’s oldest cave sites”.
Now you can see the exact spot where the woman was discovered. Since early June, this cave, “La Grotte de Cotencher” – just a short drive and walk from the town of Neuchâtel – has been open to the public for guided tours. The cave is the oldest archeological site in this part of Switzerland showing human habitation. The woman’s jaw was found on a little shelf of earth the size of a dinner plate.
“We call her ‘La Dame de Cotencher”, says archeologist François-Xavier Chauvière, who has been in charge of excavations at the cave since 2016.
It’s always neat for me to see human evolution heritage tourism and public communication expanding into countries where they have not been as prominent historically. Switzerland has a history of great research in human origins, and it’s great to see expansion of Paleolithic archaeology in the country itself.
Still, I always hate to hear about the sheer amount of material removed in early twentieth-century excavations:
Those explorers had to crawl in on their bellies, bumping their heads on the low ceiling. Between 1916 and 1918, they removed some 300 cubic meters of soil and rock (and animal teeth and bones).
But now you can stand up and easily move around the 1375-cubic meter cavern. Yet, this space is still smaller than what the nomad cave clans found more than 72,000 years ago. In the Pleistocene Epoch when hunter-gatherer Neanderthals sheltered here, this cave above a stream, was considerably larger than what we see today, because, since then, millennia of earth, rock, leaf litter and the sands of time have accumulated.
Modern excavations remove very little material, and leave as much of the original profile as possible.
Three hundred cubic meters is a lane of an Olympic swimming pool. Archaeologists today have to work around the destruction of past generations, and must do their best to avoid destroying evidence that future generations might recover with new technologies.