Charles Darwin and The Gibraltar Skull

Science has an interesting entry in its Origins: A History of Beginnings series. The entry concerns Charles Darwin and the Gibraltar Neanderthal skull

From Science:

This year, one presentation detailed the links between Charles Darwin himself and that first skull, which was found by workmen at Forbes’ Quarry on the north face of the Rock of Gibraltar. But its significance was not understood until sometime after 1856, when miners working in Germany’s Neander Valley discovered a partial skull and other bones.

Darwin was long interested in the Gibraltar skull, which he recognized as an ancient human, although many years passed before he got to see it. The circumstances of this historic encounter between Darwin and a Neandertal were described at the meeting by Alex Menez, a biologist and science historian at the Gibraltar Museum. Menez mined the 14,500 letters written by and to Darwin available online as part of the Darwin Correspondence Project maintained by Cambridge University and the American Council of Learned Societies. He found that although Darwin never visited Gibraltar, he had a keen interest in discoveries there on Mediterranean plant life and geology, as well as a fascination with the skull.

The skull was brought to England in 1864 by Hugh Falconer and Charles Lyell. Darwin later mentions this in a letter to Joseph Hooker:

Both Lyell & Falconer called on me & I was very glad to see them. F. brought me the wonderful Gibraltar skull.

Which is annoyingly vague worse yet, he doesn’t really mention it again – except for a brief mention in Descent of Man. One wonders what he thought of it…

Update 1: This is the skull for those who wish to see what it looked like.

<a href="http://www.gib.gi/museum/gib%20neanderthals.htm">Source</a>    1998 marked the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the “Gibraltar Skull” which was blasted out of Forbes’ Quarry on the North Face of the Rock of Gibraltar. The specimen was presented on the 3rd March, 1848, by Lieutenant Edmund Flint to the Gibraltar Scientific Society and the discovery nearly placed Gibraltar at the forefront of 19th Century early human studies. Fate determined that the significance of the skull was not realised and it remained undisclosed for another sixteen years. Had it been revealed earlier the human type known as Neanderthal, after the discovery of a skeleton in the Neander Valley in Germany eight years after the Gibraltar find, then the naming may have been very different.

Source 1998 marked the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the “Gibraltar Skull” which was blasted out of Forbes’ Quarry on the North Face of the Rock of Gibraltar. The specimen was presented on the 3rd March, 1848, by Lieutenant Edmund Flint to the Gibraltar Scientific Society and the discovery nearly placed Gibraltar at the forefront of 19th Century early human studies. Fate determined that the significance of the skull was not realised and it remained undisclosed for another sixteen years. Had it been revealed earlier the human type known as Neanderthal, after the discovery of a skeleton in the Neander Valley in Germany eight years after the Gibraltar find, then the naming may have been very different.

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