Projects and Activities

Neanderthal Cluster

The Initiative for the Transnational Serial Nomination of European Neanderthal Sites seeks to recognize the outstanding universal value of European Neanderthal sites by nominating them for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This initiative aims to promote the preservation and understanding of these significant archaeological sites and highlight their importance in the study of human evolution.


Dr. Bärbel Auffermann
Neanderthal Museum
Talstraße 300
40822 Mettmann

Silhouette of a Neanderthal Head Made of Steel
Photo: Neanderthal Museum

Project Synopsis

More than a thousand sites in 167 countries have already been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. However, only a few of them are the discovery sites of human fossils from the Ice Age. The early human history and cultural heritage of the Ice Age often have limited visibility, lacking monumental architecture or impressive fortifications. Instead, these sites are characterized by caves or unremarkable open-air locations. Nevertheless, the circumstances and scientific significance of the discoveries made at these sites are highly remarkable. They represent milestones in human development with global implications.

The HEADS program of UNESCO (Human Evolution: Adaptations, Dispersals and Social Developments) has successfully documented the extraordinary value and contribution of early human history to world heritage. The program aims to acknowledge the significance of these sites and the remarkable finds they hold, as they often provide insights into crucial aspects of human development history.

Neanderthal sites hold particular importance. Starting with the famous Neandertal discovery near Düsseldorf, Germany, the social and scientific understanding of modern humans was significantly redefined. Numerous additional Neanderthal sites have been discovered in Europe and Asia, together painting a captivating picture of their developmental history. Today, Neanderthals serve as a symbol of Ice Age people—their way of life, knowledge, and abilities—deeply rooted in our social memory.

Ongoing global research activities continue to shed light on our ancestors and their way of life. The results, particularly in fields like paleogenetics, have a profound impact on our understanding of ourselves in the present.

1st International Workshop

On November 2 and 3, 2017, an international workshop took place at the Neanderthal Museum in Germany, bringing together 25 experts from the fields of archaeology, UNESCO, and the German Federal Foreign Office. The workshop received support from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Communities and Local Government, Construction and Equality of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Ice Age Europe.

The primary objective of the workshop was to assess the network of European Neanderthal sites and their unique findings in order to initiate a transnational serial nomination for UNESCO World Heritage status. The participants benefited from the groundwork laid by the Ice Age Europe network, which has been promoting Europe's Ice Age heritage and establishing a foundation for close collaboration since 2013.

During the workshop, the lectures and discussions highlighted the unparalleled research history and exceptional scientific potential of the Neanderthal sites in understanding early human history. These factors serve as the primary justifications for their application as World Heritage sites. The cluster of the most significant Neanderthal sites meets several of UNESCO's criteria, which are prerequisites for recognizing their extraordinary universal value.

As a result, it was agreed to continue the process of a serial, transnational nomination. Currently, in addition to the Neanderthal site itself, 11 other partners from Croatia, Italy, Belgium, and Spain are involved.

Group photo of the participants of the 1st International Workshop in front of the Neanderthal Museum.
Participants of the 1st International Workshop at the Neanderthal Museum. Photo: Neanderthal Museum
Audience at a presentation
Neanderthal Cluster 1st International Workshop. Photo Ice Age Europe

A follow-up meeting is scheduled for early 2018, which will include representatives from French Neanderthal sites that were unable to attend the initial meeting. All participants acknowledged that the lengthy process had just begun, and further meetings were necessary to refine and specify the application.

Representatives from the major Neanderthal sites, as well as all institutions and offices involved in cultural heritage, are warmly invited to participate in the project process.

2nd International Workshop

The process of the serial transnational nomination of Neanderthal sites for UNESCO World Heritage status continues to progress. Following the initial project meeting in November 2017 at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany, the second #NeanderthalCluster meeting took place from June 12 to 13, 2018 in Namur, Belgium. Representatives from Croatia, Germany, Belgium, and Spain, along with participants from the Ice Age Europe network, responded to the invitation by the Agence Wallonne du Patrimoine (Walloon Heritage Agency). A representative from France also joined the meeting via Skype.

The meeting proved to be successful once again. The criteria for the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), as stipulated by UNESCO, were comprehensively defined and specified. Discussions on authenticity and integrity, particularly important for the cave sites, took place in multiple stages, resulting in the development of appropriate guidelines for the sites.

People sitting around a conference table
Neanderthal Cluster 2nd International Workshop. Photo: Ice Age Europe

Consequently, the application concept has now been finalized, with all participants concurring that it is a viable framework for a successful nomination process. Based on this concept, the candidate sites can now assess their individual potential for nomination.

The commitment of the Walloon Heritage Agency as the future lead partner in coordinating the nomination process and organizing forthcoming project meetings is of significant importance. The gathering in Namur marked a decisive step in determining the subsequent course of action. It is anticipated that by the end of 2018, the official commencement of the nomination process, with Wallonia as the lead partner, will be announced at the interstate level.

The discovery of Neanderthals holds paramount significance for understanding early human history and the self-perception of modern humans. Its research history has redefined humanity's place within the natural system of the Earth, and the extraordinary scientific potential of Neanderthal sites is expected to yield further groundbreaking discoveries in the future.

The #NeanderthalCluster, consisting of Europe's most important Neanderthal sites, exceptionally fulfills UNESCO's demanding criteria. The indisputable extraordinary universal value of these sites for the history of humanity is beyond question.

Gislaine Devillers / Agence wallonne du Patrimoine
Gerd-Christian Weniger / Neanderthal Museum

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