Spectacular discovery of first‐ever Dutch Neanderthal

16 June until 27 September 2009

The fossil Neanderthal skull fragment that is over 40,000 years old. Its characteristic thick browridge is clearly recognisable. This is the first fossil of a Neanderthal from the Netherlands. Photo: Erik de Goederen.The fossil Neanderthal skull fragment that is over 40,000 years old. Its characteristic thick browridge is clearly recognisable. This is the first fossil of a Neanderthal from the Netherlands. Photo: Erik de Goederen.
A high-resolution CT scan of the skull of the Neanderthal of La Chapelle-aux-Saints (France), with the skull fragment from the Zeeuwse Banken/Middeldiep “pasted in” and its mirror image, also mounted in the skull. The skull fragment is 100,000 to 40,000 years old and is the first fossil of a Neanderthal from the Netherlands. Photo: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (D)A high-resolution CT scan of the skull of the Neanderthal of La Chapelle-aux-Saints (France), with the skull fragment from the Zeeuwse Banken/Middeldiep “pasted in” and its mirror image, also mounted in the skull. The skull fragment is 100,000 to 40,000 years old and is the first fossil of a Neanderthal from the Netherlands. Photo: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (D)

Spectacular discovery of first-ever Dutch Neanderthal

For the first time ever, a fossil of a Neanderthal has been discovered in the Netherlands. The skull fragment, over 40,000 years old, with its characteristically thick Neanderthal eyebrow ridge, was found off the coast of Zeeland, dredged up from the bottom of the North Sea. Huge quantities of fossil bones have been brought to the surface from this seabed since 1874, however, this is the first time a Neanderthal fossil has been found. The unique discovery was officially unveiled on the 15th of June by Ronald Plasterk (Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science) at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) in Leiden, where it is on display to the public until September 27th.

North Sea

During the Ice Age, the North Sea area was mostly a dry lowland plain rather than a sea. Stone tools of Neanderthals and large quantities of fossil bones of mammoths and other Ice Age animals have been trawled up from the bottom of the North Sea regularly. Never before have researchers found fossils of the actual Neanderthals themselves, though. The skull fragment was found a few years ago by an amateur palaeontologist among the waste of a shell‐fishing dredger. The material was dredged from the Middeldiep, a region of the North Sea located some 15 kilometres off the Zeeland Province coast. The exact location of the find is unknown.

Research

An international research team led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) has extensively studied the Neanderthal fossil from the North Sea. They did so in cooperation with some staff from the University of Leiden. Comparison with Neanderthal skulls found elsewhere revealed that the fragment belonged to the skull of a young man. There is a small cavity in the bone fragment caused by a benign tumour that was probably present from birth. Research into the chemical composition of the bone reveals that his diet primarily consisted of meat, which is very characteristic for Neanderthals. The full research results are soon to be published in the 'Journal of Human Evolution'.

Exhibition 

From 16 June to 27 September 2009, the fossil can be seen as part of the exhibition 'Neanderthal from the North Sea' at the National Museum of Antiquities. The Natural History Museum (London) and Museum Boerhaave (Leiden) are devoting attention to the discovery at the same time.