Scladina Cave is located in the village of Sclayn (City of Andenne, Province of Namur), along the south bank of the Meuse River. Scladina Cave is known for several important archaeological finds, including an approx. eight-year-old Neanderthal child. The cave has been under scientific investigation since 1978, led by the University of Liège and the Scladina Cave Archaeological Centre (SCAC).
The Scladina site was first discovered in 1971 by local people, who contacted Marcel Otte (University of Liège) in 1976 after the discovery of lithic artefacts that have been associated with Neanderthals. Thus, for the first time since the end of the 19th century, a new Middle Palaeolithic site was discovered within the context of a cave: a unique chance for researchers to investigate Neanderthal settlements with modern fieldwork methodology.
The first excavation campaign led by the Department of Prehistory of the University of Liège in 1978 revealed an important sedimentary sequence covering part of the Middle Pleistocene up to the Holocene. The sequence delivered a very abundant palaeontological documentation that allows the study of the evolution of the animal species over a long period of time.
Distributed throughout this sequence a dozen of archaeological assemblages has been identified, among which two are numerically important and have been intensively investigated since the 1980’s: the one located in the upper part of the sedimentary sequence (assemblage 1A), already identified by the local people, and the other embedded deeper in the cave infilling (complex 5), discovered by the University of Liège and untouched until then.
At present, the excavations are carried out by the non-profit organization Archeologie Andennaise in collaboration with the University of Liège and with support from the City of Andenne, the Service Public de Wallonie and the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles.
The assemblage 1A is dated to the Late Middle Palaeolithic, between 44 ky calBP and 42 ky calBP. It constitutes up to now one of the youngest typically Mousterian occupations in North-western Europe. Archaeological evidence shows the exploitation of local and non-local lithic raw material, the use of bones as fuel, the import of a non-local mineral black pigment, and the distribution of the settlement on two separated areas.
The assemblage 5 delivered the richest occupation, at least dating back to the Weichselian Early Glacial. A large diversity of game has been exploited from small prey (hare) to larger animals such as Equidae, Bovidae and Ursidae. Moreover, at least six complete chamois have been brought to the site and were highly exploited. Archaeological and zooarchaeological evidence also indicates a complex behaviour combining the transport of raw material from across the Meuse River, sometimes over a long distance, and the exploitation of local resources to produce stone and bone tools at the cave.
In 1993, the right fragment of a juvenile Neanderthal mandible was discovered during the field school excavation in the sedimentary complex 4A, dated to the Weichselian Early Glacial. Since then, 19 teeth and bone fragments belonging to the same individual have been unearthed, distributed over a large area. In Belgium, it constitutes the on-field discovery of the most significant set of Neanderthal remains since that found in Spy Cave in 1886. For the first time in Belgium, Neanderthal remains were apprehended in stratigraphic, chronological and paleoenvironmental context. These remains have been extensively studied and published in a detailed monograph in 2014.
In 2017 and 2018, new on-field discoveries and collection reassessments allowed to stratigraphically associate some Upper Palaeolithic stone tools with a bone retoucher made from a horse metapodial within the uppermost half of the T-RO unit. The dates obtained partially overlap with the dating of the latest Middle Palaeolithic settlements and Neanderthal individuals, raising questions about the dynamic of the replacement of Neanderthal populations by anatomically modern humans in Northwestern Europe.
A visible permanent excavation
Scladina is being permanently excavated since the mid-1980s. A team is devoted to the project full-time, managing all the different aspects from science to cultural mediation. The presence at the same place of the researchers and the public account for interesting encounters, crossing the border between science and tourism at the archaeological site itself – a successful experience that is highly appreciated especially by school groups. In addition to guided tours, small groups and individuals have access to the Scladina Cave 2.0 experience, a discovery of the cave in augmented reality.
THE EMA (ESPACE MUSEAL ANDENNAIS)
In 2020, the new cultural centre “Phare” will be opened in the city of Andenne, seven kilometres from the cave. There, around 400 square metres will be dedicated to the research and the discoveries made in Scladina Cave with a special focus on the Scladina Child, whose original remains will be presented.